Bucknam: Helping our local businesses during the shutdown

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Deborah Bucknam, a St. Johnsbury-based attorney and the vice chair of the Vermont Republican Party.

The governor has now issued a stay at home order, and many of our local bars and restaurants have already been closed since March 16th because of the governor’s previous order. The government can do a lot to alleviate the economic impact of the COVID-19 epidemic, but Vermonters can also help our businesses stay afloat during this crisis. Here are some ideas on helping our local businesses impacted by the shutdown.

The Caledonian Record in St. Johnsbury has set up a free service for local businesses to advertise gift certificates, with contact information so that folks can purchase certificates now for use once the quarantine is over. This is a great way to help our neighbors, because many small businesses do not presently have a mechanism for people to buy gift certificates online, like the larger restaurant chains have. Other news outlets should follow the Caledonian Record’s lead across the state.

Michael Bielawski/TNR

St. Johnsbury-based attorney Deborah Bucknam

For individuals: many of us routinely visit local restaurants, bars, and take out establishments. So, not only are those businesses not receiving the income from us because of the shut down, but we are saving money by not eating out. Calculate how much you spend on average at local restaurants during a 30 day period. Be sure to include breakfasts, lunches and take-outs. For example, if you spend $25.00 per week, then your budget is $108.00 a month. Contact your local eatery, and buy a gift certificate for the amount you usually spend at that establishment in a month. Some local restaurants do not have a mechanism for buying a certificate online. In those instances, you can call, email, or message them on Facebook. I have purchased gift certificates from two local restaurants. One had an online gift certificate and the other — a takeout establishment — took my order on the phone.

Make an effort to buy certificates directly from local businesses, and not the gift certificate cards sold in supermarkets and drug store chains. A local restaurant franchise does not benefit until the card is actually spent, so purchasing those gift cards does not help the restaurant now.

Be sure to remember when you use those gift certificates after quarantine, you have an extra meal at that restaurant or go to the eatery or bar additional times to make up for not going to the restaurant during the quarantine period.

Don’t forget Vermont attractions that are also closed down. A gift certificate to a museum, a waterpark, or even a gym membership are also some ideas for friends and family (or yourself).

Give “I Love you” or “Thank you” restaurant, attraction, or service gift certificates to your friends, family, and especially those who cannot stay at home in this emergency, such as nurses, doctors, other care providers, police, fire fighters, first responders and those in essential industries. A gift certificate would lift everyone’s spirit!

Many restaurants are preparing take-out. If you are buying take-out at a restaurant you where you usually have a sit down meal, leave a tip that equals what you would have tipped at a sit down meal.

Local landscapers, contractors, house cleaners, hair-dressers, massage therapists, and other service providers could use a phone call from you now making appointments and paying up front if you plan to use those services after the quarantine is over.

Call your elderly neighbors to see if you can shop for groceries or take out for them so they are not exposed to the virus.

Congress is expected to pass a stimulus bill providing cash payments to individuals and families. If you don’t need some or all of the cash infusion, pay it forward, in the form of gift certificates, to the staffs at the local hospital, nursing home, or other institutions whose staff are on the front line of this epidemic. In that way, our businesses will benefit, and our local heroes will get a boost.

Because of the governor’s stay at home order, not all of us can spend the money for gift certificates, because our own income has dropped. But for those of us who can, let’s help our local businesses get through this period, and help our economy survive and thrive.

Images courtesy of Public domain and Michael Bielawski/TNR