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Three things you can do to help small businesses during the Covid-19 crisis with Ginger Brown from Main Streets

Randal Engelmann & Erik Gould

We are Randal Engelmann and Erik Gould, partners in providing exceptional customer service...

We are Randal Engelmann and Erik Gould, partners in providing exceptional customer service...

Apr 20 10 minutes read

We spoke to Ginger Brown from Centre South Main Streets to discuss what is the current state of small business in the area, what we can do to help them, and the changes they are making to stay in business. 

Randal:

Welcome back to Stay Focused, our first segment of our Zoom interviews and conversations. And today I'd like to welcome Ginger Brown, the Executive Director of JP Centre/South Main Streets.

Ginger:

I'm Ginger Brown. I'm the Executive Director of JP Centre/South Main Streets. I've been in this position three years in May. And up till now, we did things like put on fun community events like the first Thursday's scavenger hunt, Screen on the Green, we did community cleanups and the Holiday Stroll. And then, about a month and a half ago, I became essential.

Ginger:

Part of what Main Streets does is provide technical assistance to businesses in a hyper-local area, so we can immediately meet the needs of our businesses and our residents. So when this whole shutdown happened, so many businesses just didn't know where to turn. And I knew that our organization was the best place to provide that information. So I immediately started working on getting that information out, but also with the mind to this is why we're here. Main Streets as a whole across the country started to revitalize economies and small towns who had suffered from the recession, which was about 10 years ago. They've been around a lot longer than that, so some had different areas of the country were depressed, but their transformation strategies have always been in place to meet exactly this kind of need. So we had to pivot from those fun events that I really love, but were also extremely relaxing.

Randal:

And enjoyable, too. 

Ginger:

They're really fun. Into the heart of why we are here.

Randal:

Indeed, indeed. I can't even imagine how your job changed with the onset of all the changes that are happening with our businesses these days.

Ginger:

It really did. I am still coming to my office, I'm lucky I work alone, and the building I'm in is empty. The other businesses are shut down. So, it was okay for me to keep coming in. But I needed to. I was getting phone calls and emails all day, all night, just people, businesses who just needed questions answered and somebody to listen in the beginning. And now the SBA loans have come out. I'm trying to provide information on that. We are building offers for fundraising and we're also looking at going back to our fund events, maybe a projection show to promote Wake Up The Earth. But the festival got canceled. We think people are going to need something in lieu of it, so we're investigating that, too.

Randal:

That's really the impact that you've seen, is a complete change in the way that you operate. What are people asking you?

Ginger:

Ever since the CARES Act passed, people have been trying to figure out the details. And those details have literally been changing day by day. So, all we really could do was reassure businesses that, when it gets rolled out, we will have the most current information that we can. And researching this two or three hours a day to make sure that I have all the info. I don't care how advanced a country you are, you can't roll out trillions of dollars a week.

Randal:

Yep. Yep.

Ginger:

Right. So, right now the most pressing thing everybody wants to know is, "Am I eligible and is there going to be money left?" Because just today we're hearing news that the stimulus packages might run out of money.

Randal:

So, what other questions outside of the stimulus loads, SBO pay loan packages, what other questions have you been fielding from businesses?

Ginger:

What can I do? How can I stay in business in this new normal? They're shut down of course, but they still want to sell. So we're seeing businesses innovate, which I'm very excited about because that's the only way you're really going to survive. We see stores selling online, but with personal delivery or pickup in their stores here, they've changed to platforms to be able to showcase their inventory online. We're seeing restaurants divert to takeout and delivery, and now they can include alcohol, beer and wine. So, we're seeing-

Randal:

Essential.

Ginger:

Essential. So we're seeing businesses innovate in that way, and I'm encouraging anyone that I talked to, to also think that way. When they get through this, they're going to be stronger for it, they're going to have new business models that will, in a way, give them immunity to the next shutdown, to the next crisis that comes along. And it's really important that businesses start thinking of things that they can do towards that end.

Randal:

I was going to ask the question, what are some of the positive results that you're seeing from some of the changes that are being made in today's business environment, and that's certainly something I will be asking, so many of the other business owners. But I think you answered that question in advance by saying these kinds of businesses and different business strategies are the kinds of things that keep people afloat, they keep people alive.

Randal:

We've been almost talking a little bit more business centric here, and I think the message I'd really like you to get across to the viewers here is, what can our community do to support these businesses?

Ginger:

I'm so glad you asked. There's a lot you can do. And a lot of businesses are doing things in different ways. Right off the bat, if it's a local retailer food service store, try and buy a gift certificate and then hold off on using it until this is all over. A gift certificate is immediate cash in their bank account right now, and they need that.

Ginger:

Also, you can continue to share electronically, digitally, anything that that business is doing to stay afloat. You can also contribute to crowd funding campaigns. Some businesses are doing that route, because again, they need a cash infusion. You can also donate to other funds that are set up to help businesses. Restaurant Strong is helping employees of restaurants.

Randal:

Where can people find out more information about these advocacies that you just outlined?

Ginger:

They can go to our website at jpcentresouth.com/coronavirus. I have information there for both residents and businesses. I have listed several funds that they could donate to that benefit our businesses as well as residents in our community.

Ginger:

When you're thinking about what to donate to, you should think about how the businesses have been a part of our community for so long and everything that they've given to. Things like Thursdays on the Lawn at Loring Greenough House, our Screen on the Green movie projection, our community cleanup at the South Street Mall, which focus has become an integral part of. These businesses have been giving to all of those events for a very long time. It's time now for residents to give back to those businesses. And we've always thought as customers we're doing that, well we need to be best customers we can be right now for these businesses.

Randal:

It's a very interesting time, and I'm very grateful that so many people are doing so much work to ensure that these businesses survive. I was in a retail business in 2001 when we had the 9/11, and there was a lot of businesses that couldn't survive, as we're going to see you again today, but it's really interesting to see the difference between now and, well, 19 years ago, was that this digital platform and this digital place that we're all sitting on is such a powerful tool to be able to help us survive these times.

Ginger:

I have 37 volunteers who came forward to help us with the work that we're doing. I've never had 37 volunteers. I'm very excited.

Randal:

That's a really nice message to hear. And then, finally, as we're heading out, what recommendations do you have to the community from the position you're sitting in there?

Ginger:

Hang in there. Not just the residents, but the businesses too. There is help available. Whatever you need, there is somebody going through it also, you are not alone. So reach out for help. And even if you don't need the help, reach out to anyone else who does because we need each other. You're hearing it everywhere, "We're in this together."

Randal:

Yeah, indeed. Awesome. Well thanks so much for joining us. I don't advertise your exact location because we don't want to see anybody come in and try to swipe those wipes that are [inaudible 00:09:12].

Ginger:

[inaudible 00:09:15].

Randal:

I think we're finally seeing them available. So anyway, thank you very much, Ginger, for joining me today.

Ginger:

Oh, thank you, Randal.

Randal:

And I'll certainly be getting out your message of staying with it and support the businesses that have always supported your community.

Ginger:

Thank you so much.

Randal:

Before we end, do you want to give a lovely shout-out to your husband and his business?

Ginger:

I do.

Randal:

Excellent.

Ginger:

Thank you. My husband is Brad Brown, owner and chef at the Blue Frog Bakery where all your stress eating needs can be met. But Brad is also doing something great. Business has been good, and so he's able not only to continue paying his employees, but he's bought additional supplies to make meal kits. So if there's any employees or people out there who need food assistance, you can stop by the Blue Frog Bakery when they're open and pick up a meal kit. It's enough food for four, a family dinner. There's vegetables, fruits, meat, bread. It's great.

Randal:

Oh, God bless you. That's awesome. That's great. And I'm going to be really looking forward to spotlighting Brad on one of the future days.

Ginger:

Love it. He loves the camera.

Randal:

Excellent. Excellent. And you're not so bad yourself.

Ginger:

Well thank you.

Randal:

Well thanks for joining me, Ginger. And thanks for the work that you do, and yeah, God bless you.


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