As Illinois moves closer to a full reopening, it’s clear our sacrifices paid off. Offices are starting to reopen, children are heading back to classrooms, and life is moving closer to “normal.”
Despite the progress we’ve made together, the habits and behaviors we’ve adopted over the past 14 months – largely out of necessity – continue to linger. If we don’t address them, they could set the groundwork for a “normal” we don’t recognize.
Like many Illinois communities, our small businesses in Evanston are struggling. The Coronavirus pandemic transformed the retail landscape overnight as consumers were trained to shop for everything from diapers to groceries to sports equipment online. At the peak of the pandemic, there were more packages arriving in my building each day than there were units.
Back then, it was a matter of safety. Now, it’s a matter of convenience, and it’s plaguing our small businesses.
Small Business Month in May is a good reminder of the importance of supporting retailers and merchants who are the fabric of our community. And we can’t do that by only shopping at the big box retailers instead of businesses in our own neighborhoods. We all have to do our part – this month, and beyond.
In an effort to be part of the solution, I launched Support Evanston Shops, Salons, and Studios, a Facebook Group serving as a resource to connect residents with stores, merchants, and artisans in our community.
Members are able to search for Evanston’s small businesses, get recommendations on new retailers to visit, find where to purchase specific items locally, and more. We also spotlight new business owners every week, helping introduce local consumers to local shops, spurring economic activity, and creating vital brand awareness and engagement opportunities.
The mission of the Facebook Group is simple but important: to enhance our sense of pride in and support for our small business community. What began with just a handful of followers quickly turned into a vital support system for the small businesses of Evanston with thousands of followers. I hear from small business owners all the time that they’re getting new customers and reaching new followers because of our group. It’s become such a source of pride, for which I’m grateful. But it’s not enough.
We can’t have a robust community absent a healthy and thriving small business economy. And while we are slowly emerging from the pandemic, we’re not out of the weeds just yet. There are still empty storefronts, sluggish retail sales, and too many Amazon boxes in our buildings. We have to rise to the moment, adjusting our habits now to start recovering from a devastating year.
As Small Business Month comes to a close, I encourage you to find ways to show your support for the small businesses of Evanston through small but meaningful actions.
You can be a source of change by actively choosing to shop small. You can invite a local senior citizen to join you on a shopping trip downtown. You can leave a review on your favorite merchant. You can follow, share, and repost your favorite shops to help spread their message. You can join our Facebook community and learn about new businesses in our area.
This is a matter of identity. It’s a matter of legacy. What kind of Evanston do we want to leave for the next generation?
Now is the time to set our community on a path toward economic recovery. No one individual can change our course, but together we can get our small business community back on track and create a “normal” we can all be proud of.
— Ande Gaspero Breunig
Ms. Breunig is the founder of Support Evanston Shops, Salons, and Studios, a Facebook Group aimed at supporting the small business community in Evanston.
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