JP Observer: Needed by local businesses: Gift card buyers! Financial help!

Local businesses, as well as their owners and staff members, are being decimated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Without an influx of financial help, some favorite places in Jamaica Plain that are key parts of our community could be lost this year.

 “If ever there were a time to spend your money locally it would be now,” Mary Wallace Collins, recently elected president of the Jamaica Plain Business and Professional Association, wrote last week. “Shuttering a store or business for a couple of days is hard enough, but this amount of time is unprecedented,” she said.

Many segments of our society are suffering economically in these days of constant, drastic cutbacks. The federal government is trying to address that. And, properly, local government and nonprofits are taking donations to help some of them in well-publicized fundraising campaigns.

Less clear is how to help our local stores, restaurants, and service places—especially when the situation keeps many from being open in a usual way. Social distancing creates a gap between them and their customers. Suddenly, the businesses and their employees are in some degree financial trouble.

One way regular people can help is by buying gift cards. We can buy gift cards from local places to use later, when the neighborhood and business are humming again. Or never use them, if possible. Consider them an investment in the neighborhood. Gift cards may not be the total solution, but if a lot of people buy them, they could really help.

For most businesses, we only have to go to the phone or cyberspace to buy them. JP Centre/South Main Streets (JP CSMS,) website (https://jpcentresouth.com/coronavirus/) has posted an updated list that includes all types of businesses along the Centre/South corridor with contact information.

Businesses in the district may continue to submit their information for the online directory, set up by JP CSMS executive director Ginger Brown since the covid-19 crisis began.

“We are in a severe situation that will have long-term repercussions on our local economy,” Brown wrote. She invites business people to email her to sign up for the directory, be on the newsletter list or just to ask a question at [email protected] 

Buying gift cards for yourself or for someone else to be redeemed a long time from now will help businesses. Where might you have spent money in JP if you weren’t social distancing? Buy gift cards from those places. Where did you spend money this past year? Gift cards. What businesses would you mourn if they closed? Gift cards. What businesses did you mean to go to but didn’t make it yet? Gift cards.

JP residents are already pitching in. “It has been affirming to see our residents support our local businesses with gift card purchases and online sharing of resources/information,” Brown said. “This continues to be the best course of action at the moment.”

Local resident and owner of Clutter Queen, a professional organizing company, Rhea Becker is recommending what she is calling “Cancel and Pay,” inspired by people on line saying they regret to have to cancel something. If you can’t do something or use a service due to social distancing, consider paying anyway, she suggests. Good idea!

More help is needed than gift cards and paying anyway, if many local places are to survive. JP residents can also support calls for financial assistance from government sources.

If any place could use an onslaught of gift card purchases, plus other substantial help, it’s Taylor House Bed and Breakfast on Burroughs Street. The 24-year-old mainstay in the community, like every travel and entertainment business, has been very hard hit.

Owner and JP resident Dave Elliott wrote recently, “Including the Marathon now, Taylor House has cancelled over $50,000 in reservations over the past two weeks for just the next two months, and I will see many more coming as I look at our many reservations coming from Europe and abroad for graduations and weddings in May and June.”

Some of these large room blocks had ordered dinners from Daryl Bichel’s Persimmon Catering, he added.

Elliott, who is the treasurer of JP BAPA, like many business owners, is seeking financial assistance. Without it Taylor House might have to be sold. “It’s been a great 24 years,” he wrote, “but I’m very concerned for 2020.”

Bars and restaurants, ordered closed to all but take-out food in mid-March, are really hurting.

Local restauranteur David Doyle, a JP resident, addressed a change.org petition (https://www.change.org/p/governor-baker-government-support-for-restaurants-during-mandatory-shut-down?) to Boston City Councilors, Mayor Marty Walsh and Gov. Charlie Baker last week that began, “On behalf of my Boston Restaurant colleagues, I urge you to offer immediate assistance to the MA restaurant community. If such support  is not sufficient or rapidly deployed, many of our restaurants may not be able to survive the gauntlet of a closure, especially if that extends beyond several weeks.”

It was quickly signed by more than 3,000 people.

The petition from Doyle—owner of Tres Gatos and co-owner of both Little Dipper and Casa Verde—wisely asks officials to expedite applications for unemployment; expedite processing of SBA applications; rent and loan abatements for restaurant workers; and creation of a general relief fund, among other things.

The JP CSMS website is bursting with information for residents and local businesses in this period of crisis, including an entire section called Coronavirus/COVID-19 Resources. Links for businesses are there for: information on: emergency loan funds, Small Business Administration guidance; tips on handling a crisis; info for bars and restaurants; info for retail and food service workers on help that is available for them, including filing for unemployment, etc.

State Rep. Liz Malia announced on March 18 that the state has created a Small Business Recovery Loan Fund (https://www.empoweringsmallbusiness.org) to provide emergency loans up to $75,000, no payments due for the first six months.

For residents, JP CSMS has partnered with resident volunteers to create the JP/Roxbury Mutual Aid Google Form (https://bit.ly/jpmutualaid), set up for people to help each other out at this time. It is also publicizing The United Way of Mass Bay’s COVID-19 Family Support Fund (https://unitedwaymassbay.org/get-involved/covid-19-family-fund/?&utm_source=andar-mb&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=covid-19).

The Boston Resiliency Fund (https://www.boston.gov/departments/treasury/boston-resiliency-fund) will use donations to provide food for children and seniors, technology for remote learning for students, and support to first responders and healthcare workers in the City of Boston during this difficult time. 

“This virus is a live-or-die virus for many of us in more ways than one, BAPA’s Collins observed in an email. “We need our local economic support (residents) as well as federal and state aid to ensure we can reopen our doors when this crisis is over.”

Sandra Storey is on the board of the Jamaica Plain Business and Professional Association as a self-employed writer.

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