Guest Columnist

Come together to keep local business vibrant

REUTERS/Mark Makela
REUTERS/Mark Makela

It’s no secret that small business owners are struggling to make ends meet during this unpredictable time. The winter months are already the slowest for most restaurants and retail, but following the massive setbacks of the derecho and the impact of COVID-19, businesses will suffer even more. We have already seen the effects of this in Cedar Rapids, with numerous businesses shutting their doors for good. The Iowa Restaurant Association estimates more than 1,000 restaurants will permanently close by March 2021. We must step up our efforts and support the remaining businesses before they’re gone for good.

Our entire dining, retail and cultural landscape is at stake. It’s that brewery you love and the vintage store you find the best items at and the bakery that makes your favorite cookie. These are businesses that need help, especially in the absence of a stimulus package. We have owners who have been adapting and innovating for months through all the changes and yet they are still on their last leg.

It’s why we started the Loyal to Local campaign — to give small business owners a survival kit during these incredibly challenging times. The grassroots campaign was started by small businesses and brings together over 120 local establishments. However, it’s far from just another “support local” campaign. With sponsorship from over 10 established business leaders, we are able to funnel tens of thousands of dollars and thousands of customers directly into local businesses. Each week on the Loyal to Local Facebook page, we coordinate giveaways that incentivize the community to explore our shops and eateries.

For instance, the campaign posted a “Trivia Tuesday” last week where people guessed which restaurant made the featured spinach dip. Not only did Loyal to Local give away over 50 spinach dips, this one social media post funneled more than $500 into Vito’s on 42nd! Owner Jordan Caviness was ecstatic: “To get $500 right now is huge for us. This allows us to keep people employed this month, and I can’t tell you how important this initiative is.”

A few hundred bucks is a drop in the bucket to a giant corporation, but it can be a lifeline to a local business. The margins are so much smaller when you are locally owned and operated. When a small business folds, it’s not just a bummer for customers — a family’s livelihood just vanished. And that has ripple effects in our community, from employees losing their paychecks to canceled contracts with other local businesses.

At the heart of the campaign is the free deetz app, a Cedar Rapids startup showing daily restaurant specials, deals, events, and more. deetz highlights all of these establishments to amplify the unique facets of each local business. We want people to get curious about a restaurant they always drive but have never ordered from. We need people to get excited about the businesses right in their own neighborhood!

There are a ton of ways you can support Loyal to Local. Get your dollar circulating in our community by purchasing:

1. Gift cards (to use in the future or to give as gifts)

2. A special discount “bond” at participating businesses

3. Curbside pickup or delivery from local restaurants

4. Supplies and holiday gifts from local retailers

5. A Loyal to Local yard sign to show your support

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Remember when you asked that small business to support your fundraiser, charity race, sports team, or kids club? This is your opportunity to support them in return. Every single dollar counts right now. If we want to preserve our local food and retail scene, it is up to us to choose local first! Our actions today will determine our city’s small business ecosystem in the months and years to come. Let’s work together to keep Cedar Rapids healthy and vibrant.

Steve Shriver is founder/CEO of Eco Lips, Inc.

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