Editorial: Small businesses need help of government and local consumers
Fifth in an Opinion series
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Small business owners and entrepreneurs have always been a special breed. Those who succeed are fearless in the face of adversity, creative in promoting their business and nimble in seizing opportunities and adjusting to changes in market conditions. They must be part soothsayer and part gambler.
There's euphoria when business is good and plenty of sleepless nights when it's not. Being your own boss means never having to run an idea up the flagpole, yet shouldering the weight of tough decisions. And, in 2020, COVID-19 has made that weight all but unbearable for thousands of small and family businesses in the suburbs and around the country.
They need and deserve help -- not just out of neighborly compassion but also in the interest of the local and national economy on which we all rely. According to the Small Business Association's Office of Advocacy, 99.9 percent of businesses in America have fewer than 500 employees and these businesses account for nearly half the nation's private sector payroll. From 2000 to 2019, small businesses created 10.5 million jobs, nearly twice the number large businesses produced, and they accounted for more than 65 percent of all jobs created.
The economy clearly needs them, a fact recognized in the passage of two major federal stimulus packages with the prospect of more to come.
Among struggling enterprises, restaurants and bars have gotten most of the attention amid shutdowns and restrictions during the last nine months, but plenty of small boutiques, bakeries, toy stores, antique shops, jewelers, cosmetic stores and more are endangered, too. Many have reported big drops in foot traffic, business lost by the cancellation of such life events as weddings and proms and people not getting together for simple treats like lunch or shopping with friends. Will government stimulus packages be enough to help them?
They're a start, surely. And, businesses need to know the resources that are available and take advantage of them. The SBA offers a wide range of information online. Government must keep up the momentum of getting assistance to small businesses that need help -- while conspicuously working to ensure that resources intended for them aren't being siphoned away by larger firms that are better equipped to weather this crisis.
But small businesses also need the concerted help of a second category of support -- consumers.
In high-profile shopping districts like those in Geneva, Naperville, Arlington Heights and Libertyville, and in small downtowns in Cary, Wauconda, Antioch and others, survival for many businesses will depend on local shoppers.
"We really, really need local support," Kristine Knutson, the owner of How Impressive! gift and stationery store in Libertyville, told our Susan Sarkauskas ahead of a Small Business Saturday this year that was held without the traditional festivities meant to draw people to shopping areas.
In other words, to save the businesses that form the backbone of our communities, we need to commit to spending money at them and resist the urge to simply push buttons to buy from businesses on the other side of the country or the world.
The SBA estimates 1.2 million small businesses operate in Illinois, employing 2.5 million people, or more than 45% of the workforce. Spending locally is the complement to government assistance that will boost the chances for these shops to succeed and buttress the state's overall economic recovery.
You're likely familiar with some of the small businesses nearby, but you might be surprised by how many others you don't know about and the goods and services they provide. Do a little research and find other options for services and for buying life's necessities, gifts for a friend or relative or to treat your yourself and family.
Check out local Chamber of Commerce websites to find detailed directories of local businesses or post a note on local social media pages to solicit ideas to address your needs. A quick check of a businesses' website or a phone call can confirm location, hours, inventory and policies for in-person shopping and online purchasing and delivery. Drive around town and note interesting shops that would be worth a look.
Local elected officials and chamber leaders must continue to search for grant money and alert business owners of their availability and provide help with applications.
Small local businesses are working hard to stay afloat. Some have gotten help from landlords, cut inventory and left positions unfilled when employees quit. Many are being creative with online offerings and have boosted services such as hand-delivering online purchases and curbside services. Others have increased use of social media and texting to reach out to valued customers and to try to find new ones.
What's clear is that small and family-owned businesses will face increased challenges to stay alive now that the holidays are over. How can we help? Government assistance is critical, to be sure. But consumer awareness and support is the real key.
Think local, shop local and spend local.