“I came up with this idea of like an Etsy for neighborhoods,” said Sara Green, principal and creative director at DEI Creative.
Local businesses, hard-hit by virus-related restrictions, have been hustling to find new ways to generate income, and the Support Local site developed by DEI is one way for them to do that.
The websites are a bit like a virtual shopping mall, featuring at least a few products from dozens of different stores in the neighborhood. The program launched first in Ballard, and the site there features clothing, furniture, toys, books, beer, and the ever popular gift cards from a number of businesses around that neighborhood.
Or, you can buy things from them at the support local site supportcapitolhill.com.
And even after the virus has run its course, and we’re back to going to stores in person, Green said she hopes to keep the site going.
“My intention is for this not to go away,” she said.
Customers can browse the site, and Green likened it to walking through the neighborhood’s streets, where people can pop in to various storefronts after they see something interesting in the window. People who want to make purchases will have to process them with each store separately. It will also be up to each individual store to find ways to get the product to the customer, via pick up or delivery.
In Ballard’s version, Green said they’ve gotten more than 60 retailers and 30 to 40 restaurants signed up. The site has seen 11,000 unique visitors in just a few weeks, though she doesn’t have data on how many sales there have been.
Businesses have responded well, Green said, and have been excited for the chance to get their goods in public. Some of them might have seasonal products which people might not want in a month. Or they might have items with an expiration date. All are excited for any sales they can make right now.
The site worked well in Ballard, and Green said her company was able to retain the design so they could re-skin it for other neighborhoods. It helps make marketing easier, since they only need to promote a single site for many businesses. Since launch, the idea expanded to Pioneer Square, and now is coming to Capitol Hill.
The Capitol Hill Business Alliance is actively promoting it.
“We’re going to try and get every single one of our members to join,” said Christina Arrington, who heads up the Capitol Hill Business Alliance (the Hill’s de facto chamber of commerce since the old chamber shut down last year) for the GSBA.
Businesses keep 100% of their sales (though normal transaction fees, such as a PayPal fee, may apply), Green said. This stands in contrast to many app-based purchase options, particularly for restaurants, where the middleman takes a cut.
The sites also feature takeout listings that mostly link out to restaurant delivery partners like Doordash and Postmates where commissions still apply. Still, it’s useful to have a place to check out the latest food and drink takeout and delivery options.
CHS has also featured listings of Capitol Hill “to go” listings from the start of the restrictions.
The supportcapitolhill.com project joins an environment with many businesses trying to launch new efforts in a matter of days or weeks. In some cases, businesses have been able to start delivering their products, either through the mail, by rolling out their own vehicles to begin delivery service, or through working together on projects like Good in Seattle, a shopping box service featuring selections of Capitol HIll goods and creations. Others, such as exercise gyms and studios, have started offering classes online.
But some, such as barber shops, have really no way of doing anything right now save offering gift certificates.
The gift card solution, however, is imperfect. A gift card is basically a short-term, zero-interest loan. And if everyone shows up to redeem their cards in the week after the quarantine ends, it has simply pushed revenue problem around. Small business owners are hoping people will realize that and wait before redeeming their cards, or possibly buy them without the intention of redeeming them at all.
That kind of thing, basically a direct donation, is certainly helpful to businesses. In West Seattle, there’s an effort that allows people to donate to that area’s business organization, which will then funnel the money to the individual business. It’s a small, grassroots effort to be able to quickly provide emergency cash.
No such program is in the works on Capitol Hill, however. Arrington, of the CHBA, explained her group is not structured as the right kind of nonprofit to be able to do such a thing. So anyone who wants to simply donate to a local business must do so the old fashioned way — probably through a GoFundMe.
Without a source of revenue, Green and DEI partnered with Capitol Hill based developers Dunn and Hobbes, and Hunter’s Capital to pay for the site.
Supportcapitolhill.com’s biggest need as it launches is for the neighborhood’s shops and restaurants to add another task to their schedules already overwhelmed with reinventing their business models and applying for federal emergency funds. The site has listings for about 25 businesses right now. There are, of course, hundreds more. Even if it is far from complete, hopefully the effort can inspire neighborhood residents to close their Amazon tab and go search out some of the long-running — and newly launched — local online shops.
Liz Dunn, of Dunn and Hobbes and Chophouse Row, said she hopes the effort will help not only with the short term hump of staying in business during the virus, but with the longer-term marketing of the neighborhood. Once restrictions are lifted, she notes people will want to go places.
“This might inspire them to get out the door and go visit the neighborhood,” Dunn said. “It serves a really good purpose in demonstrating our great variety.”
Meanwhile, she’s been watching, and trying to help, as her tenants try to keep teams and businesses intact.
“Every single one of my tenants, god bless them, are struggling to re-invent themselves right now,” said Dunn.
You can learn more about DEI Creative’s Support Local effort here.
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