ORLANDO, Fla. – Christina Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Café in Sanford is celebrating 20 years of operation.
In that time, Hollerbach said she’s seen the Downtown Sanford Historic District grow, but she said the COVID-19 pandemic is what really brought Sanford businesses together.
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“When bad things happen, you find good things, because it unites people toward a common goal,” said Hollerbach, who is also president of the Sanford Main Street business group.
“Sanford Main Street we reestablished in 2019, so the timing is crucial. We made sure we talk to each other, and talk about the CARES Act, and PPP, monthly,” Hollerbach said.
The struggles of small businesses in 2020 are well known. A Federal Reserve study found the pandemic led to the closure of roughly 200,000 more businesses than the annual average.
“I think we found out through the pandemic how important small businesses are to the economy,” Hollerbach said. “Staying home and shopping on Amazon cost so many jobs. So it’s really important that we shop with these local businesses because they really are the backbone of our society.”
Businesses are hoping for a boost this Small Business Saturday, and many of Central Florida’s main street groups are getting together to turn the day into a shopping event.
In Sanford, shoppers can get a special shopping passport at the information center downtown. Those who visit each of the participating businesses and turn in the passport are entered to win a Christmas wreath full of local store gift certificates.
Orlando’s Audubon Park Garden District is hosting a Shop Small Sip and Stroll on Saturday afternoon. With admission, shoppers can peruse vendors and sample wines, craft beer and cider at stops around the district.
Jennifer Marvel, executive director for Audubon Park’s Garden District, has marketed the trendy enclave and its businesses with newsletters, social media, and events like the Sip and Stroll. But with the pandemic, the agency had to shift gears to help businesses transition to COVID-19 protocols, as well as to secure grants and loans to stay afloat.
While many of those same COVID-19 protocols are a thing of the past in Florida, the effects of the pandemic are still manifest in a worker shortage, as well as in supply chain issues.
“Perhaps the biggest challenge to small business right now is over the supply chain and the package delivery system.” Marvel said. “It takes longer for goods to arrive at businesses, while it is simultaneously taking longer for shipped goods to get out to their customers (including the USPS, UPS and FedEx). Shopping local means your goods are right there, and not stuck in a cargo container, though!”
“Small businesses have really suffered under the pandemic so now more than ever we need people to support their local businesses,” Marvel added. “Local businesses do so much to support the local community. If people like the flavor of their neighborhood, they should support the local businesses that have helped make it that way.”
American Express began Small Business Saturday back in 2010 as part of the Shop Small Movement.
The campaign has gained traction with American shoppers. According to the National Retail Federation, 58.1 million people plan to shop on Saturday, fewer shoppers than in even 2020. However, a larger percentage of those shoppers, 82.3%, plan to shop at small businesses.
American Express helps promote the day with a dedicated website, as well as by sending out packets of materials such as bags, stickers, fliers and more.
According to Sarah Shoulak, the new executive director for the Curry Ford West main street district in Orlando, business groups are better able to pool their resources together and get more help from organizations like American Express than individual businesses are.
“The concept of the rising tide rises all ships,” Shoulak said. “If the district improves, then we are helping anyone who contributes.”
“There’s a cohesion in the district where they see the bags and the posters and the stickers and it encourages and reminds people to shop small,” she added.
Cohesion has become important during the pandemic, according to all three business group leaders. Christina Hollerbach says that cohesion was instrumental in keeping businesses going during the pandemic because the government and other business groups are not always communicative on what kind of help is available, especially financially.
“You don’t realize there is a lot of help out there, so that’s one of the things we try to do,” Hollerbach said.
“Businesses need a cohesive message,” Shoulak said. “Having a unified resource helps them, but (the pandemic really) makes it hard to plan for the future, because small businesses want to plan and grow.”
As for the Curry Ford West district, they don’t have any major events planned for Small Business Saturday. The group went through a leadership change that made it difficult to plan, but leaders said they plan on doing something next year. For the time being, they instead promoted the day at businesses in the district over the last few weeks.
“I think that it’s something we’re going into for 2022 is communication,” Shoulak said. “I think we did feel separated and we don’t need to feel separated anymore.”