Columnist Gabrielle Gould: Answering the SOS call from businesses

  • A view of Main Street in downtown Amherst in March. Gazette file photo

Friday, September 25, 2020

We have officially completed month six of the Massachusetts pandemic response, which began with a shelter-in-place order and the shut down, and closure of all nonessential businesses.

Target remained essential and online business became a necessary evil for even the most steadfast local business supporter. We now linger in phase 3.2: Restaurants came back from total closure to takeaway only and then to outdoor dining coupled with the help of wine, beer and to-go cocktails to boost sales.

Bars remain completely closed. Please remember that the owners of our local bars are humans with families to feed, bills to pay and were a generous part of our year-round community supporting many nonprofits and events in our area and their presence is missed by many.

Retail, at least where we sit, was hit with a later phase of reopening, and some of our most loved establishments like Elements Hot Tub and Spa sit in Middle Earth, able to provide massages but with restrictions and not able to offer their outdoor open-aired hot tubs and infrared saunas.

MarketWatch is reporting that 55% of businesses on YELP have closed for good, CNBC has stated that at least 7.5 million small businesses will close due to the pandemic while an Los Angeles Time’s headline called for a “tsunami” of hotel closures coming our way.

Even with efforts by the town, the Amherst Area Chamber and the BID, we are heading into what is predicted to be a very cold, long and hard winter. I spoke with several local businesses this week whose owners fear that once the chill sets in and remains, there will be no customers — and that this may be their end.

We have been working with local businesses on a comprehensive “inside” safety protocol for both staff and guests. We have posters made to show customers how the business is making sure you are safe and comfortable indoors. We are working on a grant to purchase 50 Amherst Fire Department-approved heaters to extend, even if just for a few more weeks, the comforts of outdoor dining. These are Band-Aids. The fact remains none of this is enough.

What can we do? We have raised over $320,000 to help over 70 Amherst businesses. The community — you — made that possible. But we need more. Sorry, it is simply the facts. We need a pledge, a commitment from our remarkable western Massachusetts community and beyond.

Can you commit to once a week take out? Maybe twice a week? Maybe if you really hate to cook or are homeschooling while working from home and are simply too beat to cook three times a week? If every financially capable household could commit to this pledge, a real difference in which doors will be open come January will be made.

Could you, instead of adding to cart on Amazon or heading down Route 9 to the big-box stores come into the hearts of downtown and support the retails shops? The holidays will be here before you know it: Zanna’s, Clay’s, AJ Hastings, MASS Vintage, J. Austin Antiques, Toy Box, Hope & Feathers, Mystery Train Records, M & M Links, and Amherst Books are beautiful parts of the vibrancy and vitality of our downtown. Could you make a commitment to shop with them instead of online or corporate stores?

While it is my job to support my district, I seriously am expanding this challenge to all communities. Think about the places you so enjoy having available and go to them, cross the border to Vermont, head over to Easthampton and Northampton, do what you can this weekend and then set a day or days to keep that support for downtown America going.

I for one am set on Wednesdays for take out for my family. It is a start. We are not planning any vacations due to this pandemic so we are committing to food, local books, and our holiday gift shopping at small retail stores.

We have lost a lot as a nation, as a state and our town centers, and businesses are calling out an SOS. Can you rise to the challenge, make the commitment and take the pledge to support local, eat local, drink local, and shop local? Nevermore than today is this imperative. Together we are resilient.

Jeff Bezos will be fine, we need you now, we need you here, we need you local. For an easy local directory we offer you www.amherstdowntown.com

Gabrielle Gould is the executive director of the Amherst Downtown BID.