In a discussion last night (Tuesday) with Vienna Mayor Linda Colbert, several business and economic leaders talked about how locals could show support for their businesses, and how some businesses could do a better job of bringing in customers.
The simplest, and most obvious answer, was for locals to shop local when they can rather than buying through a company like Amazon. Jim Brooke, Town Business Liaison Committee chair, said people should also be more conscious now of taking the time to leave positive reviews online.
“Talk about local businesses on social media, leave positive Yelp reviews for local businesses,” Brooke said. “It’s easy to shop online, but if you want to have brick and mortar businesses in your community, you have to shop at them sometimes.”
Some industries have fared better than others in the pandemic, and Brooke said it’s particularly important to show support for the hardest hit, personal service businesses.
“Construction businesses and real estate have been doing pretty well, but businesses that are more intimate like hair stylists, anything that involves close interaction with people, aren’t doing very well,” Brooke said. “For my business and the people I work with, hospitality industry is really in trouble. Especially caterers, party planners, or party venues.”
It was a somewhat personal discussion for Vienna Business Association Chairman of the Board Jeff Bollettino, who also runs School of Rock Vienna (111 Center Street S). When the pandemic started, Bollettino said they had to suspend group rehearsals and switch to online only. Bollettino credited parents in the program with helping them survive through the worst of the shutdown.
“With the support of the parents, which is very important in this working, we were able to transition most lessons and hold onto most students with less revenue,” Bollettino said. “That worked very well, mostly because we communicated a lot and made sure teachers knew how to do it. We had a systemwide approach.”
Business is down for School of Rock, but it’s not as bad as other similar programs have been hit. Bollettino said when they did start having in-person concerts and such again, they had to take precautions like having parents “attend” the concert from across the street from where the students were playing.
With some signs of recovery, Bollettino said it’s time for people who were avoiding commercial interactions to start considering what locations could be patronized in a healthy and safe way.
“Get out and use businesses,” Bollettino said. “Support the businesses you want to see in business stay. I understand some people don’t feel safe, but don’t assume businesses don’t have solutions. Check and see. Help businesses with their cash flow.”
For businesses, Bollettino said it’s important to make hygiene and sanitation very front and center in how the stores and restaurants present themselves, including cleaning in front of customers.
“You should take every precaution and have to communicate it liberally so people get the message that you’re taking this seriously,” Bollettino said. “In customer’s minds they’re thinking ‘I know this business is conforming, but how seriously are they taking it…’ I’ve been in businesses where they’re conforming but it’s not obvious and it hurts.”
But while Vienna is gradually recovering from the pandemic, Town Economic Development Manager Natalie Monkou emphasized that the health crisis is likely to continue into next year, so businesses who had been hoping to wait the situation out will need to adjust.
“We’re anticipating the health crisis to continue into 2021 and we want to be able to help our business community pivot,” Monkou said.
Monkou said businesses should check at the federal, state and local levels to see what sort of grants or support are being offered. For some industries, Monkou said it could be worthwhile to look at national resources and check in with other companies or associations in the same field to see what they are doing.
“There are people you can talk to who speak your language,” Monkou said.