8 Ways to Support the Local Economy During the Coronavirus Shutdown

If you have the means, continuing to spend money locally could save jobs — and help ensure that businesses reopen when the crisis is over. Think of it as a grassroots stimulus package.

How do you support the local economy when most of the stores are closed? We have ideas. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

The COVID-19 pandemic will affect you whether or not you contract the virus; surely it already has. Among other repercussions, the pandemic is revealing exactly how interconnected and interdependent humans are, and this reality is presenting itself in many ways and places — including in our wallets.

We don’t know how exactly the COVID-19 pandemic will disturb the local, national or global economy. But we can assume that its impact will be drastic, likely with long-term effects. David Fiorenza, an economics professor at Villanova University, says that in the next two to three weeks, we’ll likely see the largest slowdown in the economy in the tristate area (and beyond) since the September 11th terrorist attacks.

The New York Times reported on Tuesday that industries most at risk of financial loss right now include: restaurants and bars; hotels and lodging; performing arts, sports and museums; air transportation; and amusements, gambling and recreation. Together, those industries represented $574 billion in total employee compensation in 2018 (10 percent of the nation’s sum), distributed among 13.8 million full-time or full-time-equivalent employees, according to the publication.

Reading about the national and global economy can feel scary and overwhelming, and what happens to the stock market on a daily basis may seem outside your control. But if you’re able to — that is, if you’re still receiving a stable income and are likely to keep receiving an income in the future — you can and should help your local economy. Now is the time to support your favorite neighborhood restaurants, boutiques and theater companies, all of which represent industries most at risk right now.

You’re probably wondering: Shouldn’t I be saving money? Yes, technically — even when we’re not experiencing a pandemic, you should always save some money “purely for emergencies and contingencies,” says former deputy mayor for economic development and director of commerce for the city (and current head of Architecture, Design and Urbanism at Drexel University) Alan Greenberger. But “beyond that,” he says, “you need to get over the fear of doing anything.”

“There are two kinds of people: People who might be losing their jobs and are clearly not in a position to be spending any money, and people who continue to have their jobs,” Greenberger says. “The critical thing is for them to pour money back into the local economy. Everyone is so rattled by this, but one way to help the economy is to say, ‘Look, life’s going on.’ Don’t let the fear of what’s going on deter you from spending your money on things you were going to anyhow.”

So how might you do that? We’ve got a few ideas.

Try online shopping.

Does that cute vintage store down the road have a website you can order from? Or how about the new bookstore in Fishtown? Great. Before you resort to Amazon, ask yourself: Could I get this from a local store, and does that store now offer online shopping? If you’re not sure, check out the shop’s website or social media accounts. Many local business owners have turned to the internet and shipping to keep their businesses afloat amid the statewide shutdown of the physical locations of all but “life-sustaining” businesses.

Order takeout or delivery.

Plenty of city-based and suburban restaurants are still open for business, offering takeout and delivery rather than dine-in services. So if you have to stay at home, why not enjoy some delicious food while you’re at it? You could light some candles, set the table all nice, and dig in. I enjoyed takeout from Andy’s Chicken on South Street this week, but you can check our list of restaurants offering pickup and delivery options and choose whatever cuisine your heart desires. Craving chicken from June BYOB? Pizza from Pizzeria Vetri? Wings and a sandwich from Nick’s Roast Beef? Tacos from South Philly Barbacoa? It’s all there. Be sure to tip extra, if you can. 

Buy gift cards and subscriptions.

If takeout and delivery aren’t an option, you can still buy a gift card to your favorite restaurant (we’ve got a list of restaurants offering them right here) and plan your first meal back in the world — whenever this whole thing is finally over. Is a loved one’s birthday coming up? Give a gift card to a boutique, a bookstore, or another business your loved one might enjoy. Maybe you can’t shop there now, but your support could help that store reopen in the future. If there’s a local theater company you’ve been considering subscribing to, maybe now is the time.

Leave a Yelp, OpenTable or Facebook review.

This one is extra-valuable, because it’s free: If you’re not in a position to buy anything from your favorite local business right now, you can always write a Yelp, OpenTable or Facebook review. This sends a message that you value the business and encourages others to visit when it’s back in action.

Keep your gym memberships, and look for online fitness classes.

Can you afford to hang on to your gym membership for another month? Great — your loyalty might help your gym stay in business and pay its staff. And while you’re at it, see if your favorite fitness instructors or facilities are offering online courses: Chances are you’ve got plenty of time of your hands — why not lay your yoga mat on the floor and work out? We’ve got a roundup of fitness studios offering workouts you can stream at home right here.

Donate items instead of throwing them out.

Lots of folks are taking up home projects and chores right now — which is a great idea. But if you’re going to clean out your entire apartment or home, think twice before you throw stuff you don’t need anymore in the trash. Give your clothes and other items a very thorough wash (this step is crucial to ensure you aren’t inadvertently infecting others), and take them to a Goodwill or other store where those who might need them can get them for free or at an affordable price.

Look out for your neighbor.

The state of the local economy is dictated by more than just spending on businesses. If you can support your neighbor or neighbors by any small means, you should. Check in. Does your neighbor own or work at a restaurant that’s in danger of closing? Ask if there’s a fund-raiser you can donate to. Are your neighbors unable to stay home with their kids right now? Maybe you’ve heard of families coordinating small child-care co-ops (yes, this is a thing) and could let them know. Safety and support nets are vital in times of economic desperation — and the more of us we can keep afloat and participating in the local economy, the better for all of us. “If you can do it, you ought to help out,” Greenberger says.

Call your local legislator.

City Councilmember Helen Gym, for example, has joined workers’ rights groups and labor unions in calling for comprehensive protections for workers amid the public health crisis. That includes an assistance package with more flexible paid sick leave and an emergency fund for families. Fiorenza, meanwhile, says you should call your state representatives and encourage the development of financial assistance from the Commonwealth.