“What can you do to help Modern Mouse?” said the newsletter from a local gift store in Alameda’s South Shore Center.
“Please buy a gift card or shop online. Anything you can to help us stay in business.”
This was the first of many distress signals following COVID-19's ambush on small business balance sheets.
Stores need to pay rent while they are mandated to shut down. With rents in the Bay Area averaging $5–10K per month and zero cash flow, the possibility of your favorite independent store closing down for good is real. Some stores sell online, but even if they do, it’s just 10–20% of their business.
And in these uncertain times, customers aren’t thinking about buying T-shirts, artisanal soaps and candles while toilet paper is in short supply.
On the other hand, as we shelter-in-place, we’re being denied our basic human need to connect. We can’t step out and meet our friends. Kids can’t play with their neighbors. Playgrounds are taped off like a crime scene. To add to this pain, we’re forced to ration out basic necessities.
Before you throw in the towel, try turning to your local retail store.
Here’s what your local retail can do for you (and what you can do for them)
1. Get you the basic needs at a discount
Even if your local gift store normally sells cards, mugs and tea towels, during these times, they could pivot to stocking COVID-19 relevant inventory.
According to Mike Rubini, owner of a startup that tracks trends, people went from searching for keywords related to protection (sanitizers, anti-viral masks, immunity boosters, etc) to searching essentials like soap, shampoo (toilet paper was searched a lot).
Then, they begin searching for DIY ways to make them (for example, keywords like DIY masks, how to make shampoo at home started trending).
Later on, with the quarantine, as people started to stay home they were searching for ways to work better (everything related to remote working, or smart working) and ways to entertain themselves and their kids (for example, board games, at-home workouts, etc).
Based on Google trends, your local store can build a list of relevant goods:
-Specialty foods from small makers
Bombay Beach, a restaurant in West Lake LA has offered to pick up vegetables and other basic necessities wholesale at DTLA markets and sell it with the help of online Mom groups. During the shutdown, restaurants can use their leverage to get the best prices and pass the savings on to the community.
Stores have permits to resell anything. Local stores are part of a supply chain that can buy wholesale and sell retail. Tell them what you need.
2. Train you with a new skill
Anytime is good to learn a new skill. Jenny Lemons a store in the Mission is offering free classes for sewing facemasks for healthcare workers.
“Prior to modern disposable masks, washable fabric masks were standard use for hospitals,” said Dawn Rogers, MSN, RN, FNP-C, Patient Safety & Infection Prevention Office.
And in these times of austerity, you can also take the opportunity to learn something useful. For example, how to mend stuff instead of buy. Rare Bird in Oakland is offering a class on “Japanese Mending”. Take a tattered piece of clothing or pillowcase and bring it back to life.
The class is offered on Zoom.
Scarlett Sage in the Mission is offering training on creating herbal remedies to deal with the virus.
Find out what your local expert is willing to teach you. Now’s the time to learm when they have time. They’re going to be swamped once things get back to normal.
3. Lift your mood with a gift (curbside)
It’s sad that we can’t hang out with our friends. We need to lift our moods now, not wait till Christmas, when things will be normal.
What are some gifts that your friends would appreciate during this doomsday “Occasion” ? Your local store can start you off with small suggestions.
One idea is things that keep us occupied indoors. Gifts that would be special in these times are growing kits, laptop pillows, puzzles, family party games like Goat Yoga.
Buy a gift for a friend. Ask a friend to pick it up curbside. Some stores do offer curbside delivery a few times a week. It’s usually the store owner opening up and packaging stuff isolated from the rest of the staff.
4. Stores can save you from inflation
Gift cards are are an easy way to support your local neighborhood store and lock in goods that are available at a discount. Stores are piling up on inventory that isn’t moving.
The Shopkeepers is starting a Pay It Forward Gift Card campaign
Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger and wife Kaitlyn Trigger launched SaveOurFaves, a directory of Bay Area restaurants selling gift certificates to offset lost income amidst “shelter in place” orders across the region. You can search for restaurants or browse by neighborhood, and then click through to buy gift certificates straight from the eateries with no added fee from SaveOurFaves.
These are financial instruments that could have higher value once things go back to normal. Stores need capital now. The value of cash is going down. Gift Cards rule.
5. They can deliver to your home
Online services like iamlocal are waiving their online fees for local merchants to post their inventory online. If you miss going to your local retailer and they don’t have their inventory listed, give them a nudge.
iamlocal is offering delivery from stores in the East Bay and extending to more cities.
5. Help launch Your maker career
They say, an economic downturn is the best time to start a business. Because you are forced to be resourceful.
With business down, you might have extra time on your hand. You might have been asked to take a temporary leave. Take this opportunity to start start a side business. With business slow, you can ask for advice from a store owner. And pay a little for their expertise. You win, they win.
We’re working with retailers to offer advice. But you could always email the retailer directly.
6. Offer you a way to be involved
You want to help, but it’s natural to feel helpless when you’re stuck at home.
The best thing you can do spread the word of initiatives started by local stores.
The initiative by Andytown Coffee Roasters is a great example. They are supporting the community (doctors, nurses, first responders) with a special program to deliver coffee to them.
“We have been overwhelmed with the kindness and generosity of our customers as they purchase coffee and pastries for healthcare professionals.
“The coffee for healthcare professionals program is saving our business right now, and also giving us the ability to spend our time and energy making product for the hard working first responders who are saving our city.”
The best thing you can do to help us at this time is to share these kinds of initiatives with your friends, family, and coworkers.
These are just a few ideas. What are some other ways you can lean into your local retailer?
We’ll get through this. But we can’t do it without our local businesses. In San Francisco alone local restaurants and retailers employ 350,000 people.
Stay safe and healthy.