Like a lot of people Curious City listener Michael Kuharich has watched with sadness as the pandemic has closed down many Chicago businesses. The closure notices have sometimes caught him off guard and filled him with regret that he was not able to do something to help.
So he was pleased last summer when Manny’s Coffee Shop told Block Club Chicago that they were struggling and needed more business.
“I thought that was great that they posted in a way that I saw it, and I could go out and help them,” he said. “Now I get stuff from there every week.”
Still, he was eager to do more. So he wrote into Curious City asking: What are some of the best ways to support a local business?
Michael especially wanted to know how he could support these businesses before it was too late, before they became another one of the 163,000-plus businesses listed on Yelp that closed during the pandemic. Curious City learned that it’s hard to know which businesses may be on the brink. But there are lots of ways for people to support them. We recently reached out to associations representing some of the most vulnerable business sectors at this time and asked for some tips.
Hair Salons, Spas, Nail Salons And Barbershops
Although some salon services have resumed off and on during the pandemic in Chicago, these businesses have had to work under new capacity rules and with strict spacing and masking requirements. Some clients have returned but many people are still wary of booking any in-person services. Erin Walter of the Professional Beauty Association says there are still alternate ways to help support them.
Buy products directly from the salon: Many salons sell products at wholesale prices or items you can’t find as easily online.
Set up a virtual consultation: Lots of stylists offer virtual consultations to help you style and manage your hair.
Purchase a gift card: Consider buying a gift card for a friend, family member or yourself for future services.
Write a review: Continue to show your support by leaving positive reviews on various social channels.
Recommend to a friend: Help them grow their business through referrals.
Clubs, Theaters And Live Entertainment Venues
With the restrictions around large gatherings, many live entertainment venues have been shut down for months, leaving owners with few options. The most recent CARES package from the federal government did include $15 billion as part of the Save Our Stages bill. The money will help many venues stem losses over the next few months. But Billboard recently reported that at least 88 music venues shut their doors for good in the last year. The National Independent Venue Association, has been raising money for remaining venues at the highest risk of closing. But NIVA also says there are some things you can do for your favorite local venues to give them a little extra support at this time.
Get subscriptions or pay for virtual shows at your favorite venue: Music clubs including the Hideout in Lincoln Park and Hot House are offering single shows or subscriptions to their virtual shows through the pandemic. And Chicago based theaters are offering streaming versions of their live productions.
Book the whole club for your quarantine family group: FitzGerald’s nightclub in Berwyn is offering micro private bookings for the people in your household to watch a movie, sit by the fire pit or have a cocktail date in a real bar for as little as $100.This is only for people in the same quarantine bubble.
Buy some merch: Patrons can buy T-shirts, posters, hats and other merchandise at their favorite venues’ websites.
Last month the National Restaurant Association reported that more than 100,000 restaurants have closed nationwide during the pandemic and 10,000 more are in danger without more federal relief, including many in Chicago. The industry did get some help in the last stimulus bill, but Parachute chef Beverly Kim says, “if you are breaking even right now, that is considered a success.” To help, she and a group of other Chicago restaurateurs shared these tips.
Order ahead: Call in and pick up your order if possible.
Skip third-party delivery apps: Apps like Grubhub charge restaurants hefty commissions. Instead, order through the restaurant’s own website or in-house delivery service.
Don’t forget the beverages: Order liquor and other drinks as they make up a big part of the restaurant’s profit.
Be patient: Staffing and logistics are tough at this time and more mix ups are going to happen.
Share on social: If you like the food, post a picture and some kind words on social media, especially Instagram.
Share food with others: Use restaurant take-out meals as gifts to loved ones.
With fewer people dressing up for work, fewer weddings, and fancy parties, there are less occasions for people to get dressed up in nice clothes and the dry cleaning industry — often represented as small businesses owners here in Chicago — has taken a big hit. The National Cleaners Association representative Down Hargrove Avery said federal business aid has helped a bit but the industry is hoping for more.
“Due to things escalating with COVID and the fear people have of leaving their homes, working remotely doesn’t look like it’s going away anytime soon. This means folks just are not dressing the same and they are not seeing a need for the dry cleaner. With the new PPP money, they will be able to get some employees back in their shop but when there is no work it’s hard to justify… We need to get the message out that the dry cleaners and other small local shops need consumer support otherwise many will be forced to close for good.”
Dry cleaners can do more than just the dry cleaning: Many also do regular laundry, which they can wash and fold.
Bring in hard-to-wash items for dry cleaning: Bring in your bigger items like bedding and other household items.
Bring in clothes for tailoring: Whether you are currently working from home or not—maybe you have some clothes that need alterations and tailoring.
Purchase a custom mask: Some dry cleaners are making masks and can sew custom masks with the fabric and pattern of your choice.
While many people are reading a lot more books during the pandemic, casual browsing at local stores is way down for safety reasons. Local book sellers, which had already been challenged by big online retailers, have gotten some help through federal stimulus but they say more is needed.
According to the American Booksellers Association (ABA), 57 member bookstores have closed during the pandemic nationwide — including one beloved Chicago store — with roughly one store closing each week. The association is hoping for a better year as the pandemic recedes, but until then, here is how you can help.
Shop online: Many independent bookstores are offering curbside or home delivery.
Purchase audio books or ebooks: Some independent bookstores do sell them on their sites.
Pre-order titles: Is there a book you’re looking forward to reading and checking off your to-do list? Pre-order it.
Sign up for a bookstore’s membership subscription services: Some stores offer great curated titles from an insightful, knowledgeable bookseller.
Buy gifts and gift cards for family and friends: In addition to books, bookstores often have a wonderful selection of puzzles, games, and gifts for kids.
Donate: Many stores have donation buttons or crowdfunding options on their websites.
Support the work of Binc: Binc is a nonprofit dedicated to assisting booksellers in need who are experiencing an unexpected financial crisis.
Sign up for the bookstore’s e-newsletter: This is a good way to keep in touch with the store, hear about promotions and the latest new books.
More about the question asker
Michael Kuharich was born and raised in Springfield, Illinois, which he refers to as “the home of the horseshoe” — after the capital’s cheesy local delicacy. After living on both coasts, he returned to Illinois a few years ago and now makes his home in the South Loop.
Michael works in IT software sales from home these days, but still tries to get out and explore the city through food.
“I love checking out any neighborhoods with great local restaurants,” he said. “Whether it’s a place with great history like the Berghoff or it is a hot new restaurant with a great chef that is getting some buzz.”
To help him learn more about neighborhood restaurants, Michael came to our live event at the Berghoff last year and signed up for the Curious City restaurant scavenger hunt. He says he looks forward to returning to dining rooms when it is safer, but for now he wants to be able to support local restaurants as much as possible with take out.
So has he been able to find a decent Chicago version of his hometown horseshoe — an open face sandwich made with thick toast, meat, cheese sauce and fries ?
“Nah,” he said. “But to be honest with you I haven’t tried that much because I am pretty loyal to a few places in Springfield. Unless [the horseshoe] was their speciality I don’t think I would even try it.” He says this because there are just too many ways to mess it up — “especially in the cheese sauce.”
But if you do find yourself in Springfield, Michael recommends trying the shoe at a place called D’arcy’s Pint.
“It is easily the best and they are doing outdoor dining right now,” Michael said. “And for a breakfast horseshoe try Charlie Parker’s Diner.”
Be sure to check out this week’s Curious City podcast where we discuss these tips and hear from Parachute and Wherewithall chef Beverly Kim about projects that she’s working on to support fellow female restaurateurs and the greater community.
Monica Eng is a Curious City reporter. You can write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org