The holidays are going to look a little different this year.
Many families will not be traveling to reunite with their loved ones this week. They will not be gathering together around the table on Thanksgiving Day. And as they make plans for the next few winter months, they will take extra care with their health, their budgets — and their holiday shopping lists.
It’s always been a prudent idea to support local businesses, but in this era of coronavirus risks and restrictions, “shopping small” is more meaningful than ever. We have all watched in dismay recently as some of our favorite places to eat or shop were forced to close, some temporarily but some forever. Meanwhile, many other small businesses in Missoula and throughout western Montana are still struggling to make ends meet and keep their workers employed. For them, the next few months could make all the difference.
You’ve probably already heard of Small Business Saturday; it’s a nationwide campaign held each year on the last Saturday in November, when communities across the United States encourage holiday shoppers to support their local businesses. This year, the Downtown Missoula Partnership has expanded Small Business Saturday into Small Business Season. It officially kicked off yesterday and will continue through Dec. 23.
This year, the Missoula Downtown Association, Business Improvement District and Missoula Downtown Foundation, with Destination Missoula and the Missoula Chamber of Commerce, are all urging us as a community to “Put Your Money Where Your Heart Is” by doing business with our neighbors as much as possible.
Sure, it’s convenient and relatively safe to hunt down the cheapest offer from the biggest box store and order it online. But it comes at a cost to the local business community, the very people we depend on to sustain a vibrant economy that provides jobs for our families and new opportunities for entrepreneurs. Missoula is blessed with a particularly dynamic local business community. In fact, just a few years ago, in 2017, the nonprofit Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation ranked Missoula in ninth out of nearly 400 metro areas in the United States for its business startup rate.
Statewide, small businesses make up more than 99% of all businesses — and the 123,419 small businesses in Montana employ more than 65% of the private workforce, 245,758 individuals in April of this year, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.
This past week, Gov. Steve Bullock announced additional statewide limitations to reduce the spread of coronavirus. Many of these measures were already being practiced in Missoula, where bars, breweries and bakeries were capping indoor capacity and encouraging customers to use takeout options. Now, bars and eateries in every county in the state, regardless of case count, will be required to limit customers to no more than 50% seating capacity, and must close before 10 p.m. Further, people will be limited to six per table where social distancing is not possible, and face coverings are mandatory for those not seated at a table.
To help alleviate some of the losses from these restrictions, Governor Bullock is releasing a total $75 million in a new round of Business Stabilization Grants to those businesses who are complying with the state requirements and who have previously qualified for assistance. Additionally, workers who have lost hours or their jobs due to the coronavirus will be eligible for supplemental unemployment payments of $200 a week for four weeks from Nov. 28 to Dec. 19. This will add up to a total $25 million.
But nothing else quite matches the impact of direct support from a committed customer base. Early in the pandemic, it was heartening to see Missoulians step up to support the restaurants and small shops most disrupted by the necessary new restrictions on customer service. Local restaurateurs have been able to stay in business as some of their loyal fans shifted to delivery and takeout. Local retailers are reaching their customers virtually, via social media and through sidewalk sales. Local restaurants and retailers understand that all of us have varying comfort levels as we cope with this pandemic, and they are finding new ways to meet our needs. We can thank them with our business.
The Missoula Downtown Association includes nearly 200 small restaurants and retail stores that will be returning the favor to local shoppers with special sales and promotions through the holiday season. It’s well worth checking out. We think you’ll find it worth your support. Every dollar spent on Main Street businesses stays in the local community and circulates back to the spender in myriad ways, from reciprocal business to taxes that pay for essential public services and infrastructure. A strong local economy is better able to withstand the ups and downs national changes.
One of the things that makes Missoula unique is its small business community. It needs our support now more than ever. It is us. So check out www.missouladowntown.com for a list of local shops, restaurants and special events. Before buying from eBay or Amazon, pledge to seek out a local business to meet your shopping needs first. And remember that money spent locally is money that eventually comes back to you.
This editorial represents the views of the Missoulian Editorial Board: Publisher Jim Strauss, Regional Editor David McCumber and Opinion Editor Tyler Christensen.