Getting Creative during Covid Local Businesses and Groups that Support Them Adapt to Changing TimeOct 27, 2020 01:10PM ● By Judy O'Gara
As the holiday season approaches in the time of COVID-19, the focus of groups aimed at keeping Medway and Millis businesses thriving is “Shop Local.”
“In Medway, local businesses are facing the same obstacles as millions of small businesses throughout America. Our first obstacle was navigating the pandemic support system and finding out how to successfully apply for and obtain much-needed federal and state funding while all but essential businesses were closed in March and April,” says Julie Dennehy, president of the Medway Business Council. Although she doesn’t have specifics on which businesses have shuttered their doors due to COVID in town, she cites a Facebook survey that 31% of small- and medium-sized businesses have shut down in the last three months, either because of government orders or financial challenges. Hardest hit industries, she quotes, are personal businesses (52%), hotels, cafes/restaurants (43%), and services like wellness, grooming, fitness or other professional services (41%). In Millis, two restaurants – Jasper Hill Café and the new Millis Clicquot Coffee were confirmed to have been permanent casualties of the COVID-19 shutdown.
Bob Weiss, of Millis’ Economic Development Committee echoes Dennehy that, early on, Millis business owners wanted an assessment of what public and private resources were available, mainly practical information.
“The EDC created a page on the Town’s website to provide application forms for businesses to apply for CARES and other stimulus funding, says Weiss. “The EDC then announced a series of virtual meetings to hear what businesses needed in order to sustain their operations. Members of this new group of local business leaders worked on a campaign to promote local businesses to Millis residents. Others metwith Town staff to discuss the creation of a Millis business event,” he says.
Most recently, on October 5th, Millis' Select Board voted unanimously to grant a 50% fee reduction for the licenses they issue, with the exception of alcohol package stores, for calendar year 2021. Similarly, Medway has extended the outdoor dining permits to 60 days beyond the end of the state of emergency.
The Medway Business Council recently launched an initiative, #ShopMedway, aimed at promoting the town’s businesses.
“We have found residents to be generously supportive of our restaurants, retailers, salons/barbershops, auto service and supply businesses,” says Dennehy. “The support for #ShopMedway and to choose local has been fantastic. We encouraged residents to buy gift certificates for future use, shop online or use curbside pickup, go online and leave good reviews, tip generously (especially the service staff), and to simply buy local whenever possible.”
Dennehey, lauds how many local businesses have adapted their business models to keep afloat during these times.
“I would like to recognize that Medway's business owners have been very inventive, quickly pivoting their business structure to accommodate rapidly changing local and state health and safety guidelines. I've seen local small business owners turn a thriving location-based business into a safer "to-go/mobile/online class" model in a matter of weeks, and have shown such creativity and entrepreneurial spirit. It's incredible to see business owners in Medway assisting each other,” she says.
Tumble Beans Café & Play, for example, says Dennehy, went from in-person play to devising home kits, online sessions and when allowed to open “private play” by reservation.
Luna Baima, of Luna’s Flowers, in Medway, also adapted, after having to close a month after she opened. “After we were allowed to open again, (in April), the challenge was staying open from 9-5 and getting all the deliveries out on time with limited staff. (Now), we encourage people to call ahead and place an order to ensure someone is there to help them in-person,” says Baima, who feels fortunate to have been able to stay open.
Joyce Boiardi, owner of Permanent Makeup by Joyce, now relocated at the Mill in Medway, had to close her doors in her Medfield location on March 10th, due to COVID-19 regulations in the state. “I was Phase II and couldn’t even think about opening until mid-June, and then my landlord, because his staff had to stay so many feet apart, they needed the space,” she says. Governed by the Board of Health, she was ahead of the game in terms of COVID-19 protocols, but she has seen one notable change in her business with mask-wearing, “I’m doing more permanent makeup on brows,” she says.
Faina Shapiro, of Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Page Realty in Medway is considered an essential worker, but she has had to make significant changes to the way she shows properties. During open houses, she says, “I have a table outside with all the information and all the sanitation products, and then I only allow one party in on each level at a time, as opposed to before, you could have 10, 20, 30 people on a level at a time. Now, it’s two couples max.” Of course, she says, all expected COVID-19 masks and protocols are in place, with Shapiro “spraying everything down after each person.” Low interest rates have created a surge of serious buyers and a seller’s market, says Shapiro, who works to ensure her buyers make decisions in their best interest.
This holiday season, the all-volunteer Medway Business Council, made up of local business leaders, has increased its social media content and advertising for its #ShopMedway campaign and its professional development programs. “We provided a free LinkedIn Zoom webinar for anyone in the community looking to connect better using this important platform, and we have begun opening up our online public directory of member businesses on medwaybusinesscouncil.org to non-members to support the entire business community,” says Dennehy.
Internally, says Dennehy the Medway Business Council has been connecting to regional Chambers of Commerce/business councils/downtown associations through Senate President Karen Spilka to discuss and share best practices.
She adds, “We also work closely to support both the Medway Economic Development committee's efforts and are working closely with the Medway Cultural Council to bring public art to drive more traffic toward our businesses.”