5 ways to support local businesses during uncertain times

In the midst of a pandemic and the start of a deep recession, no shop is safe from permanent closure. From big corporates like Debenhams and Thomas Cook to small, independent shops, few businesses can feel fully confident in their survival – especially if they don’t have an online presence yet.

In many ways smaller businesses have it worse. They often rely on the physical footfall of their customers. Personable and bespoke customer service is a big part of the allure of independents, and it’s not quite the same from behind a computer screen. If a small shop is forced to open by lack of government support but still doesn’t have enough custom, there’s no big corporation backing to bail them out. It’s through loyalty that these places will thrive.

And they need to. Independents are so, so important. They provide diversity in retail and hospitality, and an unbeatable passion for what they do. Independent businesses are also often more eco-friendly, being generally more conscious of their packaging and waste and working within a network of local businesses to source local products. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been into a Nottingham café and seen cakes from Nottingham bakeries and coffee from Nottingham roasteries, or gift shops with products from local artists. The sense of community is wonderful.

If you’re lucky enough to live in a place with a choice of quirky independent shops, bars, restaurants, and cafes, there are ways to keep supporting them safely through this inevitable second wave. Even if you’re not being as careful about COVID anymore, one: you should be, and two: we’re still in a recession. These businesses will likely be suffering regardless of what you think about COVID.

Here are five ways you can continue to support your favourite local businesses:

1. Follow them on social media

As stated earlier, loyalty is critical to helping these shops to keep running. Word of mouth is really, really important for local businesses, and where better to shout about these awesome eateries and retailers than to your friends and family on social media? Not every shop has a website, but you can bet they’ll have a Facebook page to talk about.

Give them a follow and interact with their posts – like, comment, and share them if you want to. Keep up to date on what they’re doing, when they’re opening, and what measures they’re putting in place for safety. Some may even offer competitions and giveaways to tempt you in.

Post interaction will let them know that their customers are ready and waiting to get back to their favourite places and give owners that little motivation boost to help them get through this tough time.

2. Order subscriptions

If there’s an item you buy regularly from a local independent shop such as toiletries, groceries, or cleaning products, check to see if the shop offers a subscription service. Shortly after lockdown began, I saw a Facebook advert for 200 Degrees, a local Nottingham roastery, offering a coffee subscription.

Coffee subscription from 200 Degrees and Cartwheel Coffee

We have our own millennial-stereotype bean-to-cup machine at home, so we thankfully didn’t miss out on café-standard coffee during lockdown. Even post-lockdown, we’re alternating between our 200 subscription and another Nottingham favourite, Cartwheel coffee. Before their Facebook adverts, we had no idea these subscriptions were a thing.

Subscriptions are a great way to knock items off your shopping list. Of course, this does mean more packaging, but independents do tend to be more conscious of this and ensure fully recyclable packaging. If they don’t, they’re more likely to listen if you ask them to consider alternatives.

Supporting our local cafes offers a good pick-me-up in this difficult time without indulging in a mountain of disposable cups and having to risk going into crowded places. You can make a coffee and go sit in your garden or arrange a café setup in your living room window and pretend you’re back in the normal world.

3. Buy gift cards and vouchers

if your favourite independent retailers offer them, gift cards and vouchers act as a promise that you’ll definitely come back whilst giving their sales a little boost to keep them going through this difficult time. There’s not much else we can gift safely at the moment except promises!

They also give your or your gift recipient something to look forward to once the world feels a little safer.

4. Online classes and workshops

If they provide experience days, workshops, or online lessons, sign up for some fun classes with friends or on your own. There are loads available, such as pottery or cookery that can provide a great alternative to just chatting over WhatsApp.

If your favourite independents don’t do online courses or workshops, perhaps try to suggest the idea to them – maybe they’ve not thought of it before.

For instance, if you’re craving a specific dish from your favourite restaurant, try messaging them to see if they’ve thought about offering cookery classes online. If your weekly trip to the second-hand bookshop has been cancelled, ask the owner if they could set up a book club and send you the book each week. This could be anything from online seminars, community meetups, product trialling – you name it!

There are so many creative ways for your usual hangouts to come to you – they may just need a nudge in the right direction!

5. Takeaways and Order Online

With government guidelines essentially forcing businesses to open despite lack of customers and reduced space for them anyway, takeaways and online orders are quick wins which can be fulfilled without a higher risk to staff safety.

Again, packaging is an environmental issue, especially with transporting cooked food, but the mental positivity from enjoying a takeaway every now and then can outweigh the bad by improving your mood and supporting local restaurants. Even better if your locals have recyclable packaging and non-greasy food!

And if you feel comfortable doing so, here’s a bonus one –

6. Keep shopping with them

I don’t know about you, but several of the independents I usually frequent seem to be trying their hardest to keep everyone safe to shop with them. Perhaps this is because independents are intrinsically tied with smaller establishments or adding a personal touch, but whatever the reason, let’s make sure their efforts are worthwhile.

Keeping these passionate communities thriving requires effort from customers as well as owners. There are many ways to continue shopping locally even in a recession and a pandemic, and it’s vital that we do.

Let me know in the comments what you or your favourite independents are doing to support local and keep these creative communities going!

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