How to Support Local Businesses Right Now: Invest In The Arts, Use Travel Refunds Creatively, And More

support your local economy during the COVID-19 pandemic

Right now, the only travel we do involves walks around the neighborhood at a safe distance from other humans. If you’re like me, these walks are bittersweet. It’s nice to get out of the house. But the “Closed” and “We’ll see you when this Covid thing lets up” signs on so many local storefronts are a grim reminder that we don’t know what our communities will look like when we resurface on the other side of this.

These coffee shops, home goods stores, boutiques, and restaurants are the places that make our cities and towns vibrant, exciting places to live and visit. And there are people behind all these businesses that are already experiencing hardship. With that, we want to encourage you to support your local economy and its resources if you have the means.

So if you were planning a spring break trip and suddenly find yourself with funds you had planned to spend elsewhere, consider using that money locally. Or, give to organizations and creators that make you happy and fulfilled. If you’ve found your income reduced, you can use your social capital to support the local economy and the many creators out there doing good work.

But before you dive into this list, know this: you don’t have to do it all. It’s a long list. But think about how you might have spent your money if this outbreak weren’t happening. Then, invest virtually. With that, here are some ways you can contribute.

Donate to Social Service Organizations

There are a lot of organizations with people on the frontlines helping to alleviate the impact on vulnerable populations. Here are some suggestions for organizations to look into in your community:

  • Your local food bank: With schools closed indefinitely around the country, many children who depend on a free and reduced lunch for their regular meals are suddenly without. Food banks around the country are stepping in to fill that gap.
  • Shelters and organizations working with vulnerable populations: Seniors and people without stable housing are considerably more at risk of contracting, spreading, and experiencing severe symptoms of COVID-19. Homeless shelters, social service organizations, or food delivery programs (e.g., Meals on Wheels) are doing amazing work to help. They’re worth investing in during this time of crisis.

Canceled Trip or Service? Look for Creative Refund Solutions

If you had a trip coming up, and if you can afford it, consider not asking for a refund from your tour operator. Especially if they’re a small, locally-owned business. Or think about working with the operator on a creative solution for a refund. Maybe they can apply the money to another service or future trip.

You can do the same for any other activities or events you had to cancel at home. For example, we had to cancel our son’s third birthday party at an art studio. We said they could keep the rental cost and they, in turn, offered to give us a membership instead. There are always creative solutions that can be taken when the dust settles!

Support Your Local Businesses Virtually

With both forced and voluntary closures of businesses around the world, these important community hubs aren’t bringing in money. In a lot of cases, they aren’t able to pay their staff. This puts the future of the business and their employees at risk. This kind of mass shutdown of our local economies could be devastating to independent workers, service workers, and small businesses. 

But, we can try to help offset this crisis a bit more for the businesses we love by supporting the local economy virtually! Here are just some ideas of how you can help pitch in if you have the means:

    • Order whole bean coffee (or a gift card) from your independent coffee roaster: You can buy a gift card to your favorite shop, but also buy beans online from your local coffee roaster. Start local, but if you’re in an independent coffee roaster desert, this Sprudge article has a great list of roasters that deliver.
    • Buy gift cards for your favorite local shops to support local retail: Let this be an opportunity for you to think ahead for holidays, birthdays, and just-because days and get a few gift cards to the shops that you love in your town. If they have online stores or offer curbside pickup, you don’t have to wait to get some great items to cheer you and your family up.
    • Buy produce and meat from local farms: With farmer’s market season just beginning, some markets are still up and running (with additional appropriate health-focused steps to ensure visitors’ safety) and many farms are offering produce and/or meat delivery and pickup services. Many small farms have lost important business from shuttered restaurants, so this is an important way to keep them in business while also ensuring valuable food doesn’t go to waste. Check your local farmers’ market info page to see what options are available in your area.
    • Support local bottle shops and breweries for your beverage stock-ups: Just like any small business, your local bottle shops and breweries are hurting as well. With grocery stores overrun by panic purchases, head to your bottle shop for your beverage purchases.
    • Buy books online from your local bookstores: You are going to need some reading material for these homebound weeks, right? With libraries closed as well, look no further than your independent bookstores. While the brick-and-mortars are probably closed, many offer online purchasing. If your local bookstore doesn’t have an online store, check out This new site that partners with independent bookshops around the country with a more equitable funding model for booksellers and authors.
    • Buy gift cards and takeout (while you can) from your favorite restaurants: Think ahead to future date nights and get yourself some gift cards. Think both about the places you visit frequently, and special occasion splurges. Big and small restaurants alike are already suffering. And if businesses in your area are still offering takeout, support them while they’re still open (this Eater article provides some insights into the safety of takeout food at this time).
    • Buy gift cards or pay ahead for your services with your stylists, estheticians, nail salons, and massage therapists: These high-touch industries are highly affected by this outbreak, but they offer services that make your life better and make you happier. Supporting them is essential to keep them thriving.
    • Take a virtual exercise, yoga, dance, training, or movement class from local studios or trainers (and pay/donate generously): Whether you have a regular practice or not, it’s important to keep moving while homebound. Many shuttered studios are offering live online classes, so look to your local studios first. Some studios are also taking donations for lost wages for their instructors and trainers, so consider donating directly to your favorite studios as well.
    • Participate in and pay for/donate to virtual events: Many businesses that have the ability to broadcast their services are offering online opportunities to engage. Kids’ entertainers are doing live broadcasts (here’s an amazing schedule of entertainers holding virtual shows for kids across the country, where you can also donate to the artists directly).
    • Invest in house cleaning services: If you don’t regularly have your house cleaned, maybe now is the time. Look to independent workers or small, local businesses. They could help, at the very least, get your house to the right level of sanitization.
    • Become members of your local museums, zoos, and play centers: Many of these centers are usually central to our activity schedules with our children.  Consider becoming a member now so you can support them through this hard time and you can jump right back into out-of-house activities when this passes.

Support Laid-Off Employees Directly

While small, independent, and locally-owned businesses (of all sizes) are suffering, so are their employees. Millions of employees across the world have already been laid off because their employers just don’t have the means to provide PTO (those margins are thin). While unemployment benefits will be available to some, they may not be enough, or won’t come soon enough. So anything helps. Here are some ways you can help these folks in the meantime:

  • If you know someone in the industry who was laid off, Venmo them some money. At the very least check in with them to see how they’re doing and just ask outright what you can do. 
  • Donate to lost pay funds for your local studios, favorite shops, and restaurants etc. Not all places are offering this, but it’s worth looking into via their social media platforms.
  • Donate to a virtual tip jar or relief funds of your favorite restaurant or coffee shop if they have one. Sprudge is updating a list of cities and shops that are creating such virtual tip jars. Eater has an updated list of organizations and non-profits raising funds for hospitality and service workers.
  • Donate to the Restaurant Workers COVID19 Crisis Relief Fund

Double Down on your Support for the Arts and Entertainment Industries

The arts, entertainment, and events industries were dealt an immediate impact when gatherings of large groups were banned. Here are some ways to support the arts and entertainment community:

    • If your event was canceled, don’t ask for a refund: The ticket funds go to support large teams of staff and this “donation” of sorts can go a long way to help get them through a long period of inactivity and keep their employees paid. 
    • Follow and support your favorite artists and creators on Patreon: Patreon is a way for fans to directly support and fund the work of their favorite creators (i.e. podcasters, musicians, visual artists, writers, and more). If you don’t know who to support directly, donate to Patreon’s Weird Stream-a-Thon, which will be a fund to support creators impacted by COVID-19.
    • Buy art directly from your favorite artists: If you’ve been coveting a painting from an artist you’ve been following for years on Instagram, now’s the time to support them. They likely have art for sale on their websites or on Etsy. Or, you can even message them directly to commission your own piece. This also goes for photographers! See if your local photographers are offering gift cards so you can pre-purchase a future family photo sesh. 
    • Become a member of your local art museum: Museums are often the center of culture and the arts community in our cities and towns. Support them now and plan a visit for when we resurface from this.
    • Buy your favorite music online: This is especially important for the up-and-coming musicians. With festivals like SXSW canceled, so many amazing artists aren’t able to get themselves out there. This NPR story provides some insight into the impact, highlights some great up-and-coming artists, and gives you specific tips on how to support. 

Invest in Local News and Media

Now is the time to support your local media sources as they are the ones getting you the most detailed and local information for you and your community. With print media already on the decline, there is no better time than now to invest in your local news sources as they bring you important breaking COVID-19 news. Here are some specific ways to invest:

  • Subscribe to your local paper: If you aren’t a subscriber already, now is the time to do it. 
  • Donate to your local independent weekly: Alt weeklies have sadly been folding at a rapid rate around the country. These are important resources in a community. They tell stories that traditional papers don’t. Those papers that have managed to stay alive have done so through revenue from ads, ticketing fees, and events they run – which all rely on people convening in large groups. Check out this story from one of my local weeklies, The Portland Mercury, about how they’ve had to modify their approach. 
  • Donate to your local public radio station: If you’re like me and you get all your news on NPR, consider supporting them and the important work they’re doing. They’re always open for donations! 

Use Your Social Capital

If you’re not in a financial position to donate money, there are plenty of opportunities to support the businesses, services, and people you love with your social capital. Here are some suggestions:

  • Like and review your favorite small businesses on Yelp, Facebook, or Google.
  • Leave reviews for your favorite podcasts.
  • Share your favorite creators’ and bloggers’ work on social media.
  • Check in with your community and offer support and love. There are likely a lot people you know in the above categories who just need someone to vent or give them a virtual hug. Stay connected and offer love.
  • Thank all of the essential workers out there who keep the cities we live in functioning: your grocery store workers, bank tellers, transit workers, gas station attendants, and sanitation employees!
  • Thank and support the healthcare workers and non-profit staff members in your communities who are the frontlines of managing this disease and who will likely be putting in more overtime with risk to their health and safety in the near future. 

Call Your Representatives for Immediate Aid to Small Businesses

Another important (and free) way for you to help significantly is to call your representatives. The U.S. Congress is working on ways some industries and individuals can be bailed out (e.g. airlines, cruise lines, etc.). But what we don’t want them to forget are the people and businesses that are the lifeblood of our local communities. While we can do our best to keep the economy going, federal action has more money and power behind it to truly save or blunt the blow t0 the small businesses we know and love. So, if you live in the U.S., call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 to be routed to your representatives or find your representative here and then ask for the following:

  • Immediate release of unemployment benefits (usually there’s a week waiting period, but those who were laid off need that money immediately).
  • Ask that small businesses and those in the hospitality industry including coffee shops, restaurants, cafes, bars, and those in the retail industry, be made a part of the federal stimulus.

Sending an email? Sprudge has some suggested language for you here. Another way to have your voice heard is to sign this petition started by some of the most well-known chefs around the country. If you’re not in the United States, see what you can do locally to advocate for your small businesses.

For more reading on what could be done to help save our small local businesses and the dire straits their in currently check out this Forbes story and this Eater article.

Share the Love

And of course, one of the best ways to share the love is by sharing this post so that your whole community can chip in to do their part. It’s going to be a rough road, but together, we can do this. We can continue to ensure the future of our communities by investing however we can.


Interested in keeping up with the rapidly changing COVID-19 situation? Check out our live coronavirus article for daily updates.


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