by Elizabeth Turnbull
As the days grow increasingly colder and winter rains are set to wash away the leaf-covered sidewalks, stores and businesses are preparing for a unique year of holiday shopping amid the pandemic. While many corporations have turned to e-commerce, small businesses are left to fight for visibility.
In an effort to support local businesses through the pandemic and the holiday season, the City of Seattle and various partners launched the “Shop Your Block” retail map last month to make it easier to locate small businesses and shops owned by women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ individuals.
The map, which lets users search for retailers in their area or via address and neighborhood, is a part of a larger campaign, created through a partnership between the City, Comcast, small businesses, and business district organizations, to help small business owners, who have been particularly affected by the economic repercussions of the pandemic.
“Small businesses and workers continue to be resilient for the community by doing everything they can to support workers, families, and the most vulnerable community members,” said Jacqueline Wu, Senior Public Relations Specialist at the Seattle Office of Economic Development (OED). “We all have an opportunity to shop intentionally and invest in our local economy by shopping with our local retailers throughout the holiday season and beyond.”
This year, the retail industry and those employed by it have been particularly hard hit by the novel coronavirus.
In King County, retail ranks as the third-highest industry of continuing unemployment insurance claims at 9.5%, according to data from the Workforce Development Council of Seattle King County as of late November.
With the crucial sales period of the holidays approaching and complicated by compliance with COVID-19 restrictions, this time of year will be a critical opportunity for shoppers and the community to help support local businesses.
In addition to the new retail map, residents can also search for businesses in specific South Seattle neighborhoods such as Othello, Rainier Beach, Beacon Hill, Hillman City, and Columbia City at an online site, which was created as part of the campaign through a partnership between Comcast and the non-profit, HomeSight.
An existing online marketplace is also available for shopping in Seattle neighborhoods including Pioneer Square, Capitol Hill, West Seattle, North Seattle, Ballard, University District, and Pike Place Market neighborhoods, due to efforts by partners of the OED in response to the initial statewide stay-at-home orders.
Beyond online marketplaces and maps, the campaign is also partnering with Intentionalist—an online platform that supports small businesses and diverse local communities through its online directory, guides, marketplace, and gift cards in the greater Seattle area. This site provides a space to buy gift certificates from local businesses, including those without an online presence.
In addition to community support, Comcast’s nationwide grant program, Comcast RISE, provides marketing, creative, media, and technology services to businesses owned by underrepresented groups, including a focus on Black-owned businesses. Applications for grants are due in early February.
To comply with social distancing guidelines and reduced retail capacity due to current restrictions, the City is encouraging people to use various platforms to find local businesses and also to begin holiday shopping early.
Overall, businesses owners such as Binko Chiong-Bisbee, owner of KOBO, an artisan shop and gallery located in Capitol Hill and the International District, are encouraging Seattleites to remember the businesses that rely on local support.
“Remember there are more options than Amazon,” Chiong-Bisbee said. “It requires a little more research and digging, but when you come across a small local business, do what you can to support its efforts so it will survive until we can get on the other side of this public health crisis.”
Seattle business owners can add themselves to the “Shop Your Block” retail map by completing a short questionnaire here.
Elizabeth Turnbull is a Seattle-based journalist.
Featured image: The first takeout order at Communion, a Black-owned restaurant in the Central District. (Photo: Susan Fried)