12 Ways We Can All Support Small Businesses (Even While Social Distancing)

Supporting small businesses—even while social distancing

These are uncertain times. Everywhere, governments are halting international travel, ordering people to stay home, and shuttering non-essential businesses. These measures are designed to slow the spread of the global pandemic COVID-19 and keep people safe.

For many, including service industry staff and healthcare workers, the impact of these measures can be devastating. The same is true for independent business owners—especially those in the infancy of their entrepreneurial journeys. Many have been forced to close their doors. Some may not reopen.

While the need to help the independent business community is most immediately obvious, the benefits of shopping small extend beyond times of crisis.

We are all social distancing, which means our dollars are not flowing into local cafés and boxing gyms and bookstores. But many of these businesses have made clever pivots to service their customers without human contact. There are ways that we as a global community can secure the futures of our local small businesses and help them shine in these dark times. 

We have choices right now.

Bryan Espiritu @legendsleague tweet: "These are the kinds of times that cripple your favourite locally owned independent small businesses and force us out of our spaces in the city. Please support the independents during these times by shopping online, buying gift cards, or supporting through their delivery services."

While the need to help the small business community is most immediately obvious, the benefits of shopping small extend beyond times of crisis. We’ll illustrate why helping small businesses is good for everyone, all the time and give you plenty of tips on how to do it—even at a distance.

Plus, we’re sharing 73 great Shopify stores selling everything from hand soap to at-home workout plans. Jump to the list. 👉


Why support small businesses

Beyond their size, small businesses are defined by their spirit. And at the helm are their intrepid founders—scrappy, ambitious, and resilient. They invent and build things despite uncertainty, because it’s what drives them. Their risks lead to innovation that moves the world forward. And we need them.

Small businesses are important to the economic and social fabric of our society, and we all play a part in their survival.

Competition from chain stores, skyrocketing retail leases, and struggles to secure funding or manage cash flow all contribute to well-known small-business failure rates. But small businesses are important to the economic and social fabric of our society, and we all play a part in their survival.

“Thinking of everyone as we navigate through the upcoming days and weeks,” says Knix founder, Joanna Griffiths. The brand closed its retail locations last week.

Economic impact

The spread of the global pandemic has undoubtedly affected the economy. We cannot stop this, but we can make a choice with our dollars to help local economies stay afloat and give small businesses a fighting chance to rebound when we emerge from our homes.

Growing companies—some that started in garages or coffee shops—foster eco-systems that enable other small businesses to thrive in their wake. Entrepreneurship inspires and facilitates more entrepreneurship—think online curators like Moorea Seal, who amplifies over 100 even smaller brands, bringing their products to new audiences.

Moorea Seal sends handwritten notes to her customers and reminds them to "remember the little guys, the little businesses like ours.”

In terms of local businesses, the impact is even more obvious. When you shop local, your dollars stay in the community and help local development. This is called the multiplier effect. For example, a restaurant buying ingredients from local producers uses a local insurance broker and hires a local design firm, building symbiotic relationships that help the whole business community prosper. 

Social impact

Small businesses, especially in the case of retail stores, are often major contributors to the heart of a community. “Main Street” becomes a hub of activity, where stores, business associations, and local government work collectively to create and preserve the character of their town or neighbourhood. A deliberate focus on supporting local business helps drive up the appeal of the shopping area and attracts tourism dollars into the community. The effect has a positive impact on adjacent hotels, attractions, and tours.

A healthy presence of small businesses in communities also helps people learn on-the-job business skills, empowering the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Small businesses also create local jobs. As of 2015, US small businesses employed 57.9 million people, or 47.8% of the private workforce. A healthy presence of small businesses in communities also helps people learn on-the-job business skills, empowering the next generation of entrepreneurs.

With retail businesses shuttering on their own or due to government mandates, now is the time for us to rally around the small businesses community. 

Sustainability

Masaya handmade sustainable chair
Masaya & Co. handmade sustainable chair

While not true in every case, smaller businesses may have a shorter manufacturer-to-consumer journey, meaning there is more transparency in ingredients, materials, and the source of the products you buy. Small businesses are often makers, producing goods locally. Or they are resellers of products made by small-batch brands.

Smaller brands often have the means to manufacture and source locally and ethically because of smaller quantities. You may pay more for these goods versus similar items at chain retailers, but you’re paying for the peace of mind that comes with ethical production.

A better shopping experience

Large brands have recognized that immersive experiences win in retail, but the intimacy and personalized care of small businesses is hard to scale. Many new business owners launch alone and fill every role in the business, including customer service. Without the layers of management and corporate policy, small business owners can bend their own rules—and good ones will bend over backward for each shopper—because every single customer matters when you’re small.

Every single customer matters when you’re small.

Shopping with small businesses is often a point of discovery. Smaller, local, and handmade brands often can’t fulfill wholesale orders for larger chains, and their goods can generally only be found direct from the brand’s own website or sales channels, or in independent retailers. Where department stores win on volume, small businesses shine in diversity and uniqueness.


12 ways to support small businesses while social distancing

There are many ways in which your dollars—not being spent on bars or movies—can be diverted to small businesses. Here are a few ideas to get you started, plus a list of 70+ of our favorite Shopify stores selling everything from sweats to survival gear.

1. Buy gift cards

good neighbour gift card
Good Neighbour is counting on online and gift card sales while their doors are closed.

We’ll get through this. And once the lockdowns have been lifted, you’ll be back to your usual routine, visiting your favorite sandwich shop, taking a hot yoga class, or buying candles at the maker space. Help your usual haunts make it through the lockdown by paying for products and services in advance. Check their websites to see if they offer gift cards or class packs.

On Instagram, Good Neighbour founder Aziz Alam says, “We will dearly miss seeing our wonderful neighbours during this challenging time. As a small, family owned business that relies on foot traffic to keep things running smoothly we greatly appreciate your support [online]. Gift cards can also go a long way.”

2. Order supplies online

by humankind deodorant
Stock up on by Humankind deodorant.

We all still need to eat and shower (yes, even if you’re working from home). While many grocery stores and pharmacies are still open, consider avoiding the crowds and restocking from an online independent business. Here are a few of our favorites: 

3. Learn to cook (or not)

snuk foods, overhead shot of prepared dishes
Snuk helps you recreate your favorites right in your own kitchen.

Many restaurants are closing, but check in to see if any are offering delivery as an alternative to dine-in. Otherwise, maybe it’s finally time to learn something from all those hours of Top Chef you’ve been binging in isolation:

 

And, if you’re not quite ready to take meal planning into your own hands, check to see if local meal prep services—like Front Porch Pantry in Texas, My Meals in Australia, and Honey Bee Meals in Ontario—are still operating. 

4. Keep moving 

woman doing an upward dog pose in yoga wear by SuperFit Hero
Gear up with workout apparel from SuperFit Hero.

Check in with the local gym—do they offer any online support? Will your personal trainer give consultant appointments over a video call? Is your pilates studio streaming its classes?

In Toronto, MISFITSTUDIO closed its doors this week but is offering free Instagram Live classes to their community. And many businesses, like BodyLove Pilates, P.volve, and Hylo, are already designed to enable anywhere fitness. 

If you’re converting your fitness efforts to an at-home routine, stock up on supplies from these independent businesses:

5. Make the switch to sustainable

lastswab reusable swab product in kraft paper packaging
Ditch disposables and try innovative products like LastSwab.

With the widely shared reports of toilet paper shortages and empty shelves, there’s no better time than now to update some of your consumption habits. Replace disposable products with their reusable counterparts: 

6. Outfit your remote workspace

Get cozy in your new work-from-home reality and slip into some sweats by OKAYOK.

Working from home? Same. Shopify’s entire workforce moved to a work-from-home model last week to help minimize contact. For a lot of us, that means sharing living space with working space for the first time. Even with tiny living quarters, a few clever purchases can help move you from the couch to a comfortable, ergonomic setup. 

7. Be your own barista

Elmhurst 1925 oat milk sitting on a counter next to a woman making an espresso
Elmhurst 1925 oat milk is shelf-stable so you can buy enough to last the lockdown.

Your local café is closed and maybe your free-flowing office coffee source has gone dry, but you don’t need to resort to instant coffee. Please, I beg you. Shop these online retailers to up your coffee game:

8. Practice self-care

Moorea Seal calm package: candle, book (52 Lists for Calm), pens, jewellery, tape and a stapler
Treat yourself with a care package from Moorea Seal.

It’s hard to avoid the news or obsess over every new case. And isolation may be very challenging for some. Stay in tune with your mental health and access resources available to you. It’s also a good time to treat yourself

9. Start a hobby (or find one to distract your kid)

person's hands completing a puzzle of the moon
Keep your hands busy with a new hobby—like a puzzle from Four Point Puzzles.

With schools closing and offices going remote, there may be a sudden increase in the number of things/people competing for your attention. And, it might be a while before you can escape the chaos and return to your book club or coding class. Check out these independent businesses and discover a new hobby for you or your kids:

10. Go into survival mode

a person in the foreground frames a survival kit by uncharted
Prepare for off-grid isolation with survival gear by Uncharted.

We’re not saying you should panic, but preparedness never hurt anyone. These shops have everything you need to stock your underground bunker or go on an extended off-grid stay in the woods—social distancing at its finest.

11. Share your favorite stores in your social networks

Did your favorite small business close? Are they paying their employees anyway? Help them stay afloat by paying forward their goodwill. Tell your followers about ways in which you can support them, like buying gift cards for future purchases.CORINNE FISHER @PhilanthropyGal Tweet: "Hi! If you’re a female owned small business please send me a link to your website as well as a link to your favorite item from your shop."

12. Reach out

You may have built relationships with some of the small business owners where you usually shop. Reach out and ask what they need right now. If you’re a business owner too, stick together and support your fellow founders—like Pause Beauty, who has committed to giving free pedicures to frontline workers when the risk is over. Think of the online business community as one big self-sustaining Main Street. 

Wild North Flowers left out free flowers from cancelled events and weddings to bring joy to the local community.

In a recent Instagram post, Noah Clothing founder Brendon Babenzien urges his followers to “buy something. Not necessarily from us, but from any independent businesses or creative enterprises you believe in, and preferably those that’ve made positive, ethical choices in the ways they create and operate.”

Take care of each other.

Illustration by Isabella Fassler