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Directed spending during pandemic can help local businesses survive

The novel coronavirus induces feelings of powerlessness or loss of control. Staying in our homes and out of public places, while necessary to flatten the curve, seems so passive.

One area that can give us a sense of agency is choosing to spend some money with our local businesses. The government-mandated closings extend to so many businesses and will touch so many lives. Restaurants, bars and nightclubs; casinos and theaters of all kinds; sports venues; fitness gyms and yoga studios – the list goes on and on.

There are countless other businesses that will feel the effects. Pizza orders suffer when no sports are on TV. Sports bettors have no games to wager on. Dog walkers see their business drop when many more people are staying home. Zoos and cultural attractions will all suffer if people don’t show up. And this list barely scratches the surface.

Citizens in Buffalo Niagara, who pride themselves on being part of the City of Good Neighbors, already do so much. In addition to our charitable contributions, to doing more for food banks and homeless shelters, to checking in on elderly neighbors during these troubling times, we should be mindful about using discretionary income to support local businesses. There are many ways to accomplish this.

Order a pizza for delivery; hold the anchovies and the guilt. And since you can’t dine at your favorite restaurant, place some takeout orders or buy a gift certificate or two. This can be as simple as putting some money down that you would have spent anyway on dining and using it as an investment on a future night out, while helping restaurants get some revenue now to pay their employees. Those employees are our neighbors, our kids, our college students. We don’t want them unemployed.

Now is a particularly important time to be generous with tipping. The person bringing food to your door is under tremendous economic strain now, with their income uncertain.

The same goes for other businesses and institutions. Whether it’s the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, your favorite museum or art gallery, the Buffalo Zoo or any nightclub or theater, they’ll be very happy if you buy a ticket to a future event, or a seasonal membership or subscription.

If there’s a run on meat or bread at the grocery store, check out the local butcher shop or bakery. Consider buying produce from a farmers market or other independent retailer. Get your dog or cat food from a corner pet store.

This applies to any local shop. Many will ship items, often at discounted rates during the COVID-19 pandemic. They all will be happy to sell you merchandise online or a gift card.

Beyond keeping our economy afloat, the dollars we pay in sales tax are important to Erie and Niagara counties. The postponing of conferences and conventions will also mean more vacancies in our region’s hotels, and less bed tax revenue for the counties. County government provides vital services, including the public health effort to test for and contain coronavirus, giving counseling and resources to those with substance abuse or mental health problems, and numerous other programs on which we depend. If certain types of tax revenue dry up, it’s taxpayers who will eventually have to make up the shortfall.

An analysis in The News on Tuesday showed that the Buffalo Niagara region began losing jobs as far back as last summer, well before the COVID-19 pandemic began. Job uncertainty makes consumers more nervous, while spending accounts for about 70% of all economic activity, the story said. By opening our wallets a bit, we can all do our part to keep Western New York’s economy afloat.

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