Back in March, before COVID-19 was in our daily worry and conversation, the Gillette Main Street program sent out information about a grant opportunity through Main Street American x American Express. I thought, why not apply? What could it hurt? The application pool was big with over 3,000 applications from the entire US, but it wouldn’t hurt to throw my hat in the ring. So, I sat down at my computer one morning and filled out the grant application. I then deleted the grant from my computer because I felt there was no chance of winning, just forget about it. And that is exactly what I did: forgot about it. Because life went crazy. The store shut down. Downtown shut down. Everyone went inside and took care of themselves and their families. We worried about Coronavirus and its effect on businesses, our economy, our most vulnerable community members. I had to adapt, and my focus was on my store’s survival. I hustled, I got busy posting, making noise, doing videos, trying to give my customers a break from the sad news on their feed. And we survived. For 7 weeks we were closed and now we are learning how to work in a new normal. How to make sure our customers can feel safe inside our store yet still connect to them and create a sense of community. That is what brick and mortar is, building relationships and making community connections. That is so hard to do when your community it shut down.
In the middle of surviving, I learned that Magpie Designs had won the Future of Shopping Small Business Grant, a $10,000 blessing. I was one of 10 businesses Main Street America x American Express connected with. I cried, I laughed, I did not believe it. I was told to not share the news until they announced it, which took over 3 weeks! It is hard for me to keep any type of secret let alone something that was such a blessing in a time of crisis.
So, what is the Future of Shopping Small? I believe the retail landscape is different now than it was when I applied in March. Our world was completely turned upside down and retail must adjust to survive. This crisis showed that a retail store, heck even a school classroom, better have an online presence with a user-friendly interface. If you cannot open your door to customers, then you must find a way to get in front of your customers and meet them where they are. To those who have online only businesses they know exactly what I am talking about. Yet this was a major revelation to me: I cannot rely on foot traffic alone. Before coronavirus there was the start of a retail revolution, of brick and mortars creating that omnichannel experience, giving online customers the same experience as in-store customers. That will only continue with the use of social media shopping, email marketing, and having full access to stores while not physically in the store. My hope is that this is well received with consumers. That being able to give customers 24/7 access to small brick and mortars will ease their shopping on large consumer platforms, that they will turn to help the small business owners survive. I think shoppers will turn to their local small businesses and shop with them because if anything, this pandemic showed us how important small businesses and restaurants are to local economies.
Here are a few articles covering the grant. I am so honored to be part of this diverse group of business owners that Main Street America x American Express picked as the recipients.