Today, March 26th, Austin City Council approved several measures to assist our community during the COVID-19 crisis, including help for small businesses, workers, and residents. Council Member Pool supported these measures and helped with a plan to reduce utility bills, which may rise significantly with most of us having to remain home during this time.
Help for Small Business, Workers, and Residents:
- The Council created a temporary “Bridge Loan Program” that is an initiative brought by the Economic Development Department to help fill growing financial gaps for small businesses (Item 88 ). Council also worked to amend the proposed criteria for those loans to include “commercial and multifamily real estate” to help small property landlords, and reduced the number of required employees for small business to one (1) which is intended to help contract-type workers such as hair stylists.
- The Council approved another Economic Development Department initiative that raised the amount of money available for small business loans through the city’s Small Business Program (Item 89 ).
- Council passed an initiative to quickly craft further programs and options (Item 91 ) to support small and local businesses and workers affected by the economic challenges with COVID-19.
- Another measure approved by Council, and co-sponsored by CM Pool, will identify multiple ways to reduce utility bills for those affected by the coronavirus pandemic (Item 92 ), including adjusting the criteria for emergency financial aid.
- And finally, Council approved a longer time period of eviction protection for tenants (Item 90 ) by requiring landlords to give 60 days for tenants to make payment arrangements before notice to vacate can be given.
There are other measures that can be explored, such as expanded rental assistance for our community; Council requested that the Economic Development Department craft some options for that expanded assistance for the next meeting on April 9.
We are all learning new ways of…well…doing just about everything during this pandemic. From social distancing to disinfecting, it’s a new world. We’re all concerned for our health, our businesses, our livelihood and more. But I’ve never seen Austin come together like we have now.
So many neighbors are reaching out to others who may need assistance. Groups are being formed to support creatives who are losing so much. Educational institutions are shifting into gear for online and remote learning. Our local government is creating programs for dealing with this pandemic and protecting us as much as possible. And local businesses are rising to the needs of our community.
While many local business doors are shuttered for now, they are desperately trying to take care of their employees and survive long enough to be here when this storm passes. If we want things to return to normal, even a ‘new normal’, we need our local businesses.
AIBA has created a database of local businesses and all the ways they can deliver their goods and services to you. From curb service to cheese webinars to take out, they’re stretching to reach you where you feel comfortable. Local Business Serves You tells you who is doing what. We are updating this list every 24 hours. We’re doing this so you can find a safe way to support your locals through this pandemic.
Austin is a community that cares. We’re showing it in so many ways. Show your locals some love by supporting them however you can.
If you own a local business, get listed here.
This is going to be a rough ride. No doubt about it. But there are some things you can do to help your business. We’re all having to look for creative and supportive ways to attract and service customers. That means thinking of new ways to operate in a world of social distancing. While local business encompasses every type of business, retailers are perhaps hurt the worst. While AIBA is telling consumers how and why they should continue to give you their business, we have a few ideas for you too. No doubt many local businesses are already engaging new techniques but we hope this is a help.
1. Go Online
Most of us have a website, your own or social media such as Instagram or Esty. This probably was a supplement to your brick and mortar store. Reverse that thinking. Now your store is a supplement to your online presence—it’s your new warehouse. If your business is any kind of consulting or instruction, go online with webinars.
2. Go Curb Service
Whether you offer music or brunch, offer curb service. Keep a skeleton crew for parking lot delivery. If customers don’t have to come in, it increases their comfort level of doing business with you.
3. Go Old School
Take phone orders for curb service pickup. Something we might have thought of as a luxury a month ago becomes a bare necessity of service.
4. Go Gift Card
Promote your customers to purchase a gift card now for use later. You might even give them a little something extra for buying a gift card. Cash for you, a bonus for them.
5. Go Vocal
Tell your customers how they can do business with you in the time of coronavirus. Tell them loud and clear what you’re doing for them. Reassure them even if you’re not feeling very reassured. To help with that, AIBA has created a downloadable poster for your door and a social media graphic for you to share.
We know this is hard. And scary. But we have The Power of Local and that gives us a community of caring and supportive local businesses. We’re continuing to provide resources from AIBA and others in our community that will help. See our resources blog that we update regularly. While we’re helping you get customers, become another local businesses’ customer.
These are difficult times. We all know it. But our strength lies in each other. I had intended to write about our recent event, The Power of Local. But little did I realize that I would be viewing the Power of Local through a different lens. After the cancellation of SXSW and the approach of the coronavirus, we are viewing everything through a different lens.
What can we do? We can collectively minimize the effects of financial losses by supporting each other. We can reduce the viral infection of our community by practicing common sense with our employees and our customers. It is natural to look to others to help us. But there is much that we can do for ourselves. We are not powerless. We have the Power of Local.
If every business, local and not, commits to purchasing what they need from local businesses, we will stabilize our local economy. I’m talking to you big corporations who call Austin home. You can decentralize your purchases of goods and services to focus on local companies that drive the community where you reside. And I’m talking to local business too. This is a time to support one another. There’s no need to spend more, spend what you need to but at local businesses.
We know how this virus spreads. We can’t totally stop it but we can slow it to a crawl by sanitizing everything. Repeatedly. You’ve heard the drill. Wash your hands, your counters, your door handles—anything people touch. Don’t touch your face for any reason. Stay home if you’re sick. Educate your employees about this.
Quell your customers’ fears by telling them what you’re doing to keep them safe. This can be as simple as a sign on your door and an email to reassure them of the steps you’ve taken. It’s up to us to create a safe environment where customers feel comfortable. Find alternatives for reaching customers. Delivery? Online shopping? Phone orders? Quick and easy pick ups? Deals? Be creative about attracting customers.
Fear has the capability to cause more damage than the real challenges facing us. Let’s eliminate it in ourselves and our employees by being proactive in prevention. Let’s calm it in our customers by assuring them that we are providing the safest environments possible.
Each of us may be one person doing what we can. But think about how many people local business reaches on a daily basis. Our collective reach is vast. Our influence and leadership is powerful. It is the Power of Local. Let’s show Austin and the country what we can do.
Tito’s Handmade Vodka is the creation of former geophysicist, Tito Beveridge (yes, that is his real name). After earning his degree at UT Austin, Tito’s career path took him from running heli-portable dynamite seismic crews in South America to mortgage brokering back here in Texas. Somewhere along the way, he started infusing vodka with ingredients like habaneros to give to friends. One night, at a party, a stranger approached him, “Hey, you’re the vodka guy!” Still selling mortgages, he quickly corrected the man with, “No, I’m the mortgage guy,” but that got him thinking…
Inspired, and during a time of self-reflection, Tito drew a line down a sheet of paper, listed his skills and passions, and looked for overlap. Soon enough, he set out to distill vodka. On a plot of land outside Austin, he built a one-room shack and started building stills based on photos of old moonshiners and prohibition-era busts. He toyed with the still and the recipe until the result was “a vodka so smooth you could drink it straight.”
Then he hit a wall.
Tito tried to get some financing, but investors turned him down, convinced he would fail. The State of Texas had never been home to a legal distillery, after all. So, with a mix of savings and 19 credit cards (on which he racked up about $88,000), he funded himself.
Hunched over books of code, he soon discovered nothing in the law prevented him from starting a vodka operation. He convinced the state to let him incorporate and obtained the first legal distilling permit in Texas, selling his first case in 1997. For years, he spent most days alone in the shack, distilling, hand-filling, and labeling every bottle.
During those early days, Tito started donating product to local nonprofit fundraising events. He would show up with a case, pour drinks, and serve them with a simple request: “If you like it, tell 20 of your closest friends.” Over the years, this small, localized gesture evolved into a nationwide movement as the company grew, empowering employees, customers, and fans to make a difference in their communities through the Love, Tito’s and Vodka for Dog People programs.
With a goal to turn spirits into love and goodness by joining forces with nonprofits across the country, Tito’s works to give back in meaningful ways. One of their latest projects is a new Love, Tito’s retail space downtown at 215 Lavaca Street. 100% of net proceeds of whatever you purchase – a new collar for your four-legged friend, a Tito’s tee, some branded barware — go to the nonprofits they support.
While you can’t enjoy a Tito’s there due to Texas liquor laws, the store has a bar finder listing local spots that serve up Tito’s cocktails, brand new merchandise, a doggy photo booth, and more.