If there is one thing we can all agree on this holiday season, it is that we must protect the independent, locally owned small businesses that make the Camas-Washougal area a desirable place to live, work and visit.
Protecting small businesses, however, does not mean we need to buy into the “reopen rallies” backed by wealthy conservative donors that popped up nationwide this spring and summer.
In fact, many areas where officials gave in to the shouts of right-wing rally goers over the pleas of healthcare workers, are now discovering that reopening businesses too soon — and reopening without proper COVID-19 precautions such as mandatory masks for staff and customers — was a recipe for even greater economic disaster.
Just look at Arizona
Arizona’s Republican governor, Doug Ducey, shutdown businesses later than most states, reopened a few weeks later despite the advice of public health experts and forbid local mask ordinances until well into the summer.
In late June, COVID-19 experts from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia warned that Arizona had “lost control of the epidemic.”
The situation has not improved.
“I’ve treated battlefield casualties in Iraq & COVID in NYC. In June, when I arrived for the surge in Yuma, Arizona I expected public health measures by (Gov. Ducey), yet today our hospital has 107 COVID patients. We’re exhausted!” Dr. Cleavon Gilman, an emergency medicine doctor in Yuma, Arizona, who has, for months, been chronicling his experiences on the front lines of COVID and highlighting the stories of people killed by the virus, tweeted on Nov. 25.
Last week, University of Arizona researchers said the state needed to immediately issue a three-week stay-at-home order and enact a statewide mask mandate if Arizona wanted to avoid overwhelming its hospital system, telling state leaders that taking no action “would be akin to facing a major forest fire without evacuation orders.”
Not only did the too-soon reopening and lack of mask mandates force Arizona into a health care crisis, but the reopening also had severe economic consequences for many small business owners who reopened and then were forced to re-close, often permanently, after COVID cases surged, impacting customers, employees and business owners’ own families.
Some small business owners in Arizona, however, saw the writing on the wall in the spring and formed a group called “Too Soon Arizona.”
On the group’s website, the business owners wrote that they were committed to keeping their employees, customers and families strong and safe — and therefore would find alternatives to reopening too soon.
“Like the rest of you, we desperately want life to go back to normal,” the business owners said. “But things are not normal. Case numbers per day are still rising across most of the nation, including here in Arizona, and lifting the stay-at-home order will cause an acceleration in cases and unnecessary deaths.”
They added that they felt “proceeding incautiously with the reopening of businesses will worsen human suffering in our communities and prolong the negative impact this pandemic is having on small businesses and the economy” and said they would wait until public health experts agreed that reopening was safe for them, their customers and their employees.
We have seen many small business owners in Camas and Washougal make similar commitments to the safety of their staff and customers — reopening only when public health officials deemed it safe, closing down again when cases surged this fall, ensuring that everyone is wearing an appropriate face covering while their inside the business, setting up physical distancing markers so customers can remain a safe distance from each other while shopping and adhering to all of the state requirements meant to prevent Washington from becoming a COVID hotspot like Arizona.
Those small business owners deserve to be rewarded for their efforts.
As we enter the holiday shopping season, one of the biggest things we all can do to help our local small businesses — especially those that have been committed to following the recommendations of public health officials and helping reduce the rate of COVID-19 transmissions in the area — is to keep our money local.
Studies have shown that shopping at locally owned small businesses not only keeps more money circulating in the community but also helps keep local jobs, since locally owned businesses employ more people per unit of sales than big-box retailers and tend to retain more employees during economic downturns; and help strengthen the local economy.
As a 2011 study by the Maine Center for Economic Policy that looked at the economic impacts of buying from locally owned businesses in Portland, Maine, a city with roughly twice the population of Camas-Washougal combined, concluded, “If residents of the region were to shift 10 percent of their spending from chains to locally owned businesses, it would generated $127 million in additional local economic activity and 874 new jobs.”
Even if businesses are unable to open their physical locations during this pandemic, there are still ways to support them by shopping online and arranging for curbside pickups from local retailers, buying gift cards for future use from local movie theaters and restaurants, taking advantage of online exercise classes at local gyms or yoga studios, ordering meals for pickup or delivery from local restaurants — and, mostly, just turning toward small, independent businesses first when you need to buy something or are looking for that perfect holiday gift.
If we can all just hold on a little longer and help our local businesses get through this last push in the war against COVID-19, there is hope that things will be relatively “normal” by summer 2021. We learned this week that vaccines are on the way and that short-term studies say they are safe and effective. But getting everyone vaccinated will take several months, so we must all remain vigilant until that happens.
Until then … Stay safe and help keep others in the community safe by wearing a mask, avoiding social gatherings with people outside your own household and adhering to the public health recommendations found at cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/index.html.