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Column

Tiny businesses matter

You keep hearing what the government is doing for small businesses during the COVID-19 shutdowns, but do you realize that a “small” business can have up to 500 employees? As important to our economy as those small businesses are, a sector of even smaller businesses has been largely forgotten — the tiny business.

We — yes, my family owns a tiny business, but this is not just about our store — are the stores lining the streets of Uptown Creston and the major thoroughfares in our towns which have no, or one to five at the most, employees to make us eligible for the government grants or to be able to accept the programs without financially harming those employees who are able to get unemployment benefits.

We need you to see us.

Even before this crisis, businesses uptown were struggling. There are as many vacant storefronts on North Maple Street as open businesses.

Creston has been working on revitalizing its uptown, but those efforts have been hampered by the restrictions due to the virus. Update Uptown, whose sole purpose is to bring business and businesses to uptown, was scheduled for April and had to be canceled. In March, just as the usual seasonal uptick in business should have begun, many of the stores were forced to close.

During this closure, mortgages and rents still had to be paid. Electric bills, water bills, trash collection bills, internet and phone bills still came in. For those who own their buildings, apartment rentals upstairs helped take care of some of these expenses, but for those who are renting their store spaces, a shutdown meant little to no income at all.

Some business were able to provide internet sales to at least keep a little money flowing, but the volume certainly did not equal the day-to-day expenses. Hair and nail salons, as well as massage businesses, did not have that option.

As businesses reopened after Governor Reynolds’s relaxation of restrictions, store owners faced a new challenge — community backlash. Some announced their reopenings only to change their minds because of hurtful comments they received from the public.

Let’s really look at this. Most tiny business don’t have more than 10 people in their stores or salons at any one time. There are more people in line at Walmart right now than have walked into our store in the last week since we’ve been open.

Don’t vilify your tiny store owners for trying to survive. We’re cleaning, we’re offering accommodations to our customers to keep them safe, and we’re hanging in there — for the moment.

You likely live in a small town because you like the way everyone is connected and supportive of each other. You probably like the fact that small stores give Creston a charm that big box stores don’t and that when you buy things or use their services, you are supporting a family.

You can help keep it that way. It may cost you a little more or be a little harder to schedule for awhile, but saving tiny family-run businesses is worth it.

Buy some popcorn, visit a small clothing store and get a summer outfit for coming days when we all get to gather again. Buy a book or art supplies to keep you — or your kids — busy until we are out of quarantine. Get a massage (I know I need one after all of this) or a tattoo (Don’t you need a permanent reminder that you made it through this?) Make a hair or nail appointment (let somebody fix that coronavirus cut you gave yourself) as soon as they reopen. If you aren’t ready to go out in public, that’s OK. Wear a mask if you need to or call up your favorite local store to see if they’ll do curbside delivery, most of them will. Or buy a gift certificate. Just support your local tiny business if you want to keep them around — it matters.

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Let me know what matters to you at rsmith@crestonnews.com, 641-782-2141 ext. 6433, or c/o Creston News Advertiser, 503 W. Adams St., Creston, Iowa 50801.

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