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How To Be a Better Neighbor To Small Businesses Right Now

SHUTTERSTOCK

With more people out of work because of the pandemic and stay-at-home orders just beginning to loosen, it’s no surprise that many small businesses across the country have had a painful year. That’s why both economic experts and entrepreneurs say they need the support of their communities right now. To better understand the best way to do that, we partnered with Nextdoor, the app that connects neighbors, to bring small business experts together to discuss what it’s been like to operate a business in this wild year and how we can all be better neighbors to them. Watch the video to see the full discussion, and keep these key tips in mind:

Shop in person when you can 

From taking orders over social media to creating more robust online retail options, small businesses have had to get incredibly creative to stay afloat in 2020. That said, Robert Fairlie, economics professor at the University of California Santa Cruz points out that this change in consumer behavior to buy more online could impact downtowns in cities and small towns across the country. “This movement to online activity has been great for big companies; it’s not been as good overall for small business owners. It could be very problematic for downtown areas,” he says. “We all enjoy walking through downtown areas with a diverse range of shops…They give us a sense of community.” 

So when businesses are open and it’s safe to do so, visiting their physical storefronts (while following social distancing guidelines) is important. For those not ready to do that, calling ahead for curbside pickup or asking an owner to place an item aside for you might be more feasible for them than setting up an online presence. 

Don’t just like, share 

At a time when it’s hard to stay connected to our communities, following small businesses on their social networks can help keep you informed about new inventory, dishes, or services that are available. But, as Dawn Belisle, owner of Delights By Dawn in Atlanta says, sharing small businesses you love with your own network can do way more than a follow or like. “I used to taunt my friends: ‘thanks for the likes, but you need to share so other people who don’t know me can know I exist,’” she says. So go ahead and post a pic of some drool-worthy ramen (tagging the business!) or recommend a great local shop on Nextdoor. Leaving positive reviews and referring your neighbors via word of mouth is key to helping businesses grow this year as well. “Little things like that do a lot,” Belisle says.

Buy from Black-owned businesses 

The number of active business owners fell by 22% between February and April, the largest decline on record (thanks, coronavirus). If you dig a little deeper into that stat, though, you’ll find that Black business owners suffered the sharpest decline: 41%. That means identifying, promoting, and patronizing Black-owned businesses is hugely important right now. 

The Black Lives Matter movement has brought this issue center stage, explains Stephanie DeVane, vice president of entrepreneurship and business development with the National Urban League. We went from being the stepchild to Cinderella,” she says. “We’ve noticed much more support for minority and Black-owned businesses...The unrest has focused on the disparities, what they are, why they exist, and going out to support business owners.” From New York to LA, Thrillist has covered how to support Black-owned businesses in cities across the country, if you’re looking for specific ideas near you. 

Use local businesses to give back 

Whether it’s thanking frontline workers with lunch or making yard signs, your activism can have an even larger impact if you shop from a small business in the process -- like ordering that lunch from a local restaurant or buying pens and markers from an art supply store rather than an online retailer. As DeVane says, being mindful of where you shop for the basics is key. “Use those local businesses to support heroes,” she says. Some may even offer to partner with you to support the community as well, in return for a shoutout on social media. “The big picture is that business ownership is important for building wealth and community,” Fairlie adds. 

Remember to just be nice 

This year has been really hard on pretty much everyone. But, that doesn’t give you a pass to be a jerk to a customer service rep because your item didn’t arrive on time, or to a waiter who forgot your drinks while outdoor dining. That goes double for small businesses, who are navigating ever-changing guidelines on safety protocols with smaller teams. “When you’re emailing customer service, it’s one person,” says Andrew Yung, founder of Brooklyn-based shop Pintrill. “Not to say businesses aren't accountable, but there are people behind these businesses and they’re overworked to begin with.” Simply put, that means being patient and understanding if things aren’t going smoothly, tipping well, and following the safety precautions required sans attitude.