COVID-19 sparks unique buy local initiatives this holiday season

During a year that has hit small businesses especially hard, shop local initiatives generally limited to the holiday season have risen since the onset of COVID-19. This holiday season, however, there are added efforts to bring support to local Grand Rapids businesses. 

Courtesy of the City of Grand Rapids#SupportOurGRBiz and #ApoyaNuestrosNegociosGR are being used to encourage the community to shop local. This effort is being coordinated by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation's Pure Michigan Business Connect Program (PMBC) and several partners, including the city of Grand Rapids, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. (DGRI), and the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. Patrons are encouraged to record themselves while shopping safely at local businesses and tag at least three friends to join the initiative. 

The campaign goes further by using PMBC’s business-to-business matchmaking platform to connect corporate buyers with small businesses. Small businesses and suppliers can submit an intake form detailing products and services, and large purchasers can submit a buyer intake form highlighting purchase needs.

Even businesses that do not join the platform can still support other organizations. For example, a business that is no longer having a holiday celebration may purchase different restaurant gift cards to provide to employees, shares Richard App, the retail, retention, and attraction specialist for the City of Grand Rapids. His position is a partnership between the City of Grand Rapids, DGRI, and the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.

A unique approach to shopping local

In addition to this initiative, App and his wife, Monica Steimle-App, have started another project coinciding with the 21-day emergency order, also known as Pause to Save Lives, initiated by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Each day of the order, from Nov. 18 through Dec. 8, the Apps will visit a local small business, purchase items, and a $21 gift card to give to coworkers or friends. They hope to increase awareness of the vibrant business community and bring people into new stores they may have never heard of or visited before. 

“The whole idea is not only to help the businesses but also to spread that [support] around so that you’re helping more than one business, and you’re also helping employees and the people that own the space,” says App. 

Each day App posts a photo to social media highlighting the business he supported and encouraging others to do the same. “It’s just a little thing that we’re doing to try and keep businesses moving forward,” he says. 
Courtesy of Richard App
Helping the business community

As a former small business owner, App brings an additional entrepreneurial perspective to his role in helping the Grand Rapids business community. Since the beginning of the pandemic, App has been acting as a resource to businesses for grants and loans, leading him to start what he calls the “morning read.” Five days per week, he sends out an email to businesses discussing what’s going on in the business community at the city, state, and federal levels. He recently shared two grant opportunities — the Pure Michigan Small Business Initiative and the city of Grand Rapids' Small Business and Microenterprise grant program, which provides up to $5,000 to local businesses.

Over the summer, he helped found the Michigan Restaurant Promise, which is a group of restaurants around the state that came together to determine best practices for the industry amidst COVID-19. Dozens of restaurants have signed onto the promise to adhere to several health guidelines. In return, they are requesting patrons to comply with a list of guidelines. 

“It's going to be a very challenging and difficult few months as we're kind of [at] the beginning of the cold season,” said App. “But the most important thing is for people like myself that have been longtime supporters of our local economy to make sure to continue that [support], not just during the holidays, but throughout the next year.” 

The following business directories will help you locate local businesses that you can support: 
Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses, Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, Local First of West Michigan, West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, West Coast Chamber of Commerce, Experience Grand Rapids.
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