Stores may be closed and you may be self-isolating, but you can still support local business from home. Here's how.

By Real Simple
Updated March 17, 2020
JGI / Jamie Grill / Getty Images

As the novel coronavirus continues to spread throughout the U.S., public and local health authorities are encouraging citizens to avoid gathering in large groups for at least eight weeks, and urging retailers and restaurants to either close or consolidate their offerings. Hundreds of schools have closed temporarily, and companies have asked their office workers to work remotely for the foreseeable future. Streets are quiet and, sadly, independent businesses are already taking a hit.

These rigid cancellations and social distancing precautions are, of course, for everyone's personal safety—to help curb the rate of COVID-19 cases—but they're undeniably taking a toll on local economies across the country.

The right thing to do is listen to local and national health officials' recommendations and continue practicing responsible social distancing, hand-washing, and avoiding touching your face and physical contact with anyone who's sick.

However, that doesn't mean you should stop supporting local shops, restaurants, bakeries, and institutions while working from home or sitting on the couch. You (and the local economy) rely on independent purveyors every day—and now their livelihoods rely on you for continued support. Not only do they need the revenue to keep their businesses running, but also to keep and pay their hard-working employees, from line cooks to cashiers, and everyone in between. Here are some easy and creative ways to help your hometown businesses stay afloat during this unprecedented and uncertain time.

Related: Your Ultimate Guide to Tipping: Here's How Much You Should Tip Everyone from Taxi Drivers to Baristas

Browse Social Media for Specific Ideas in Your Locality

Does your town or city have an official Twitter, Facebook, and/or Instagram account? Check right now. It may be a one-stop shop where local workers and businesses are posting ideas and rallying for support. For example, St. Louis magazine shares that The Women's Creative and Experience Booklet partnered with the St. Louis official instagram account to create a new hashtag (#314together) and Facebook group where small business owners can spread the word about the best ways to support them.

Buy Merch Online

Most restaurants have an online presence with more than just online reservation bookings and digital menu previews. Poke around to see if you can chip in and buy some ecommerce swag—hats, T-shirts, tote bags, mugs, you name it. The New Yorker contributing food correspondent Helen Rosner has the right idea. She's posted a highlight and stories to her Instagram profile featuring local restaurants' merchandise from all around the country you can shop right now. (Seriously, check her out @helenr on Instagram, if you want to help!)

Purchase Gift Cards for Future Shopping

This is one of the most straightforward ways to provide small businesses with an immediate source of revenue, even while social distancing. While it's your prerogative to avoid public places by halting your usual in-person shopping and appointments, purchase a gift card or gift certificate you can use later. This goes for any retailer or service that offers gift cards—particularly online. Beauty salons, restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops, toy stores, gift shops, fitness classes, and beyond.

Even better? Buy online gift cards and email them to friends for a small pick-me-up. It'll be a little something to look forward to when all the craziness dies down again.

Pay Now, Go Later

If you or your family participates in weekly extracurricular activities—like dance, tutoring, martial arts, music, or swimming lessons—see if you can pay for future sessions now (if it's feasible with your budget, of course) in exchange for credits later.

Take Advantage of Digital Payment Methods

In the same vein, text or email your go-to hairstylist, trainer, yoga instructor, or nail technician to ask if they're on Venmo or another payment-sharing app. Book out future appointments now and pay for them in advance—all without risking in-person contact.

Related: Five Questions to Ask Yourself When Starting a Business

Consider Small Specialty or General Stores for Some Shopping Needs

Stock up on a few toiletries at a family-owned pharmacy, shop for essentials at the general store on the corner, and so on. We know they can be more expensive, but why not purchase a few things there? Shoot for pantry staples that last a while like maple syrup, olive oil and vinegar, and jams.

Don't Assume They're Closed

Call your favorite local spots or check their websites to see if they're still open. Many places are offering to accept payment by phone or online, and then bring the goods out to your car for you. As long as you practice good hygiene and stay responsible, this is a great workaround for shopping at your local deli, bakery, or coffee shop, for example.

Order Food for Delivery or Pickup

Similarly, remember that many restaurants and food options still remain open for takeout and delivery, despite temporarily pressing pause on dining room service. Online food-ordering services like Seamless and Grubhub are making delivery from local spots easy on customers while keeping restaurant partners and their employees in business. Seamless, for example, has pledged to defer commission fees for impacted eateries to increase their cash flow immediately, match all promotions to help double restaurants' investments, and offer "contact-free" delivery at checkout on the website and mobile app (deliverers will call or text when they arrive and drop your order in the lobby or on your doorstep).

Seamless and Grubhub have also created relief funds "to provide additional financial relief for our drivers and restaurants…" Seamless announced in an email press release. "With this fund, all of your Donate the Change contributions will go to charitable organizations that support drivers and restaurants impacted by the coronavirus outbreak." So, yes, ordering ramen from the couch does more than you think!

Spread the Word on Social Media, Too

Share on your Instagram story or Facebook feed which retailers and restaurants you're shopping or donating to to encourage friends, family, and any fringe followers to do the same.

This article originally appeared on Real Simple by Maggie Seaver.

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