Businesses Cry ‘Help!’

Slow the Spread, but Support Economic Stability

Credit: Schot, De Volkskrant, Netherlands

Regarding next steps as this coronavirus situation changes rapidly, I want to make a strong appeal to the needs of the many small businesses (owners and staff) that will need immediate assistance as the distance between us rightly grows.

Our federal government is proposing support that benefits a large-scale business model. Their “solutions” are ultimately short sighted and will inevitably hurt businesses like mine, my family’s, and my neighbors. It is time for Santa Barbara to show incredible leadership in our stated goals of equity and mutual responsibility.

The following are five actions that I believe would make a huge difference in slowing the spread and ensuring that the economic impact is not as bad in Santa Barbara as we are seeing in other cities right now. In short, we need heavy and directed stability by way of cash, collective effort, and time to heal. 

·  When non-essential businesses close doors to regular foot traffic (storefronts and restaurants) — ensure that
o Sick and safe time for both employees and owners will be extended for the entirety of that period of time.
o Utility payments are greatly reduced or waived dependent on need
o Cash flow assistance becomes easily and readily available based on predicted revenue. We and many other small businesses already are seeing a reduction in sales over these past weeks, and the loss of revenue going forward will make a significant impact. This obviously makes it more difficult for us to shutter for the recommended period of time, even if we wanted to.

· Coordinate funding to businesses to offset the cost of delivery for those that wish to hire local courier services (especially food and grocery-oriented businesses) to get product to local customers. If we can shut our doors and continue to operate/accrue revenue that would be a huge help to reduce both spread and city investment.

· Use your platforms loudly and often to encourage residents tokeep their spending in city limits. Many shops and restaurants are ready to get creative with ways to stay operating during this time; residents need to be encouraged to do the same. Buying locally is not only the right thing to do; it’s quite literally an investment in our collective health.

· Set up a donation fund for cash support to all of this. Use your connections to publicly lean on our big business city partners to donate as much as they can to contribute to this effort. Small businesses, service providers and contractors keep Santa Barbara humming, and the transition to working remotely for big business is making a hugely negative impact in cities like Seattle and Boston, where all of their commercial centers rely on the patronage of those employees and serving the needs of those large companies. Working remotely is absolutely the right thing to do right now, but the companies that have the privilege to make that choice can and should feel a responsibility to those folks who, while off their payroll, contribute greatly to the health of their business. Ask those companies to dig deep in ways that really matter to our collective community — make it easy, make it friendly, make it public, and make it the right thing to do. People are searching for ways to help right now, and this would be one way for those who are more fortunate to do some real and lasting good.

· Pressure put on landlords to help shoulder this burden: how are they completely insulated from this economic disaster?

· Lastly, and super importantly — after this has passed, coordinate a marketing blitz that invites the public to not just think about but truly understand the profoundly important positive impacts of shopping locally.

We are all in this together, but the city government has the distinct privilege of being in a position to do incredible good — for the duration of this public health crisis and for the health and unity of our community as a whole.

For instance, the city of Beaverton (pop. 100,000) helped its small businesses by taking money from the city travel budget, marketing funds, and other programs to provide $250,000 in emergency funds as a stop gap before the SBA loans become available. If you remember, SBA Disaster Loans take 25-35 days to fund. With stop gap capital, your small businesses will be better able to survive this crisis. Imagine if the city could reach out to some of its big business partners to help fund such a program. I would imagine that it would be very successful. 

Acting quickly, cooperatively, courageously, and generously is the most important impact the city can make.

Julia Mayer is co-owner of Dune Coffee Roasters.

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