Individual Buying Decisions Impact Ida and COVID Recovery
To say that many local businesses are reeling from the dual impacts of Hurricane Ida and the pandemic closures and restrictions is putting it mildly. An alarming number of enterprises that were scraping by during COVID-19 have thrown in the towel after Ida. With many more hanging by a thread, all resources and support are absolutely critical.
One valuable resource for area business owners is StayLocal, an initiative of the Urban Conservancy. An alliance of independent businesses in the greater New Orleans area, StayLocal’s mission is “raising the visibility and viability of the locally owned, independent New Orleans businesses.”
While StayLocal was launched before Hurricane Katrina, according to Maryann Miller, program manager for the initiative, “it really took root as part of the response after the storm.” And Miller sees companies using some of those post-Katrina lessons to survive the recent crises.
“Business owners were able to sustain the interruptions and communicate with their customers during COVID due to innate understandings that they developed post-Katrina,” Miller observed. “We’ve seen this across all sectors, and even with people who may be running a different business now than they were then.”
It’s too soon after Ida to gauge its full impact, but Miller is already seeing some trends.
“Microbusinesses are going to take the longest time to decide whether or not they are returning,” she reported. “Some of these individuals may go into other work for now and put their business on hold.”
Another factor is how much debt business owners have, especially considering the pandemic loans many took on. “Their appetite for taking on more loans will be a major factor in their decisions,” she predicted.
Measures that some businesses took in response to COVID are being increased or accelerated as a consequence of Ida. “First, their staff needed to stay at home to deal with their children or being ill themselves,” she noted. “Now many staff members have housing issues. This is causing businesses to reduce their hours further, reduce their staffs further. The vaccine situation is also an issue.”
To support these businesses, StayLocal offers a variety of programs and services. Maps and directories of locally-owned businesses direct customers to these stores. Partnerships with other area business organizations, such as JEDCO, the Jefferson Chamber and the City of New Orleans’ economic development arms, help amplify the message that shopping locally is vital to the economy. Crafting the messages themselves, such as the upcoming #giftNOLA campaign, helps residents see the impacts of their purchasing decisions.
“People need to understand the importance of buying locally produced items from local merchants,” Miller emphasized. “It will help all of us recover from Ida, and it’s an opportunity to reconnect with local people that we have been isolated from during COVID.”
The numbers back this up: “The consumer impact of local purchasing is that the money circulates three times in the local economy before eventually departing,” Miller explained “By contrast, funds used in a purchase made at Wal-Mart immediately depart for Arkansas.”
Local businesses tend to spend their money with other local businesses, like accountants or printers, and bank with local banks, which further expands the economic impact of the customers’ original spending.
The elephant in the room, of course, is Amazon, and StayLocal is following possible Congressional action on this subject with interest. Pending legislation would force the e-tail giant to treat small businesses more fairly, in areas such as pricing and profit-sharing. StayLocal is also working to educate local shoppers on the impacts of their spending choices.
“By shifting just 10% of Amazon purchases to independent, local businesses, residents (and business owners) in the greater New Orleans area would inject millions of dollars annually into our local economy,” according to research Miller cited.
Examples of this are products developed locally and sold in local stores, but that people purchase for slightly less on Amazon. Miller points out that the small savings ultimately cost the community significantly, in everything from reduced economic impact to the fact that local businesses do more to support their surrounding communities. There are also issues of cultural co-opting, like buying Mardi Gras products online that have no actual connection to any local producer or retailer.
Since most local businesses now have websites, shopping locally online is easy. Delivery times are fast – sometimes same day – and if there is any kind of issue with the product, it’s easier to deal with a local merchant who is likely to be more responsive to the problem.
“Ida and COVID were like a one-two punch,” Miller said, “and all of us can help each other recover.”
Consumers interested in more information about the importance of buying locally and finding locally-owned businesses, and business owners interested in connecting with the StayLocal network, can find more information at www.staylocal.org.