By Gina Malone
It’s an unprecedented time for businesses worldwide. Not even during the Depression was there such a pall over business as usual. When no one can go out onto streets, into shops, galleries, venues, restaurants, breweries, then owners are left with online sales of goods and gift certificates—and the hope of business loans to tide them over without a sense of when it will be over. And then there are the widespread job losses that mean less expendable income for the buying community.
Individuals, nonprofits and agencies went into action immediately when COVID-19 shut-downs began at the local and state levels. Staying connected online and through social media has never been more crucial, particularly with the arts, which depend so much on being seen and heard.
“We have extensive plans for a social media takeover,” says Candace Reilly, assistant director and curator of downtown Asheville’s Blue Spiral 1. “Our feeds will not only continue to promote the current exhibitions at the gallery, but we will do online studio tours, interviews and demos with many gallery artists during the closure.” Blue Spiral 1 is offering an e-commerce platform that will allow online purchases of any work in the gallery’s inventory.
Now is an excellent time to explore websites of favorite businesses and to discover new favorites. Programs like #AshevilleStrong, #LoveHendo and #LoveJacksonNC are giving businesses of all kinds much needed visibility and visitors to the websites an opportunity to help make a difference.
Jackson County’s program, LoveJacksonNC, was launched on March 17 to help support local businesses. “We pivoted our operations from being visitor-centric to focusing on our community and looking toward recovery,” says Nick Breedlove, executive director of Jackson County NC Tourism Development Authority. “With some 75 percent of the state’s hospitality industry out of work, we looked at supporting business owners at a time they need it the most. Every dollar spent in the community by residents counts—now more than ever. By supporting them now, our hope is that all of these businesses will be open when our visitors return.”
The site not only connects potential customers to existing businesses when walking in doors is not possible, but also includes valuable information for the public such as public Wi-Fi spots for rural residents and students and funding resources for small businesses.
In Henderson County, as elsewhere, businesses are offering virtual visits, online shopping and gift certificates. Exploring websites may not have the immediate appeal of browsing beautiful spaces like Flat Rock’s Firefly Craft Gallery and The Gallery at Flat Rock, but there’s the potential for finally getting (virtually) to places you’ve always meant to visit and, too, there’s the satisfaction of feeling that you, with whatever small purchase you’re able to make, are helping businesses to survive.
#LoveHendo, like the other sites, offers the purchase of experiences as well—an investment in the time when all of us can throw open our doors and visit the places we love. “We were heartbroken to cancel most of our performances of Charlotte’s Web due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Lindsay Patton, social media coordinator for Flat Rock Playhouse. “We are grateful for LoveHendo and the patrons who are showing their support through purchasing gift cards.”
Asheville businesses have gathered under the umbrella of #AshevilleStrong. “These types of initiatives help us in the vulnerable business community feel seen and that is something,” says Betsey-Rose Weiss, owner of American Folk Art & Framing. She, like most other gallery owners, is working to sell inventory online.
River Arts District landscape painter Philip DeAngelo, also listed with AshevilleStrong, has brainstormed a number of ways to engage and stay connected during this time of business not as usual, including a 20 percent off sale on giclées during May for those who mention The Laurel of Asheville or enter the code “Laurel20” online and a show and interactive painting project to celebrate the end of social distancing. Mark Bettis of Mark Bettis Studio & Gallery has begun #artistsupportpledge on Facebook, with artists supporting each other through purchases of original works priced under $200.
Promotional sites also help users locate restaurants that are still providing take-out and delivery and farmers markets, like Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project’s A-B Tech market, that are offering curbside pick-up.
Many initiatives have been launched to help the community and businesses with immediate needs resulting from job and income loss. These include the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina’s Emergency and Disaster Response Fund, One Buncombe Fund and #HaywoodStrong#HaywoodRecovery. Local, county and state website pages can provide additional resources.
“The LoveJacksonNC website is a great way for all of us who are participating to say, ‘Hey, our doors may not be open, but here are ways you can order from us and support our community,’” says Steve Baxley of Baxley’s Chocolates in Sylva.
To learn more, visit AshevilleStrong.com, LoveHendo.com, LoveJacksonNC.com, cfwnc.org, MountainBizWorks.org, HaywoodChamber.com, PolkNC.org, YanceyChamber.com, OurLocalCommunityOnline.org (Mitchell County), MadisonCounty-NC.com and MadisonCounty-NC.com. Because of constant updates, many businesses and nonprofits are relying more on social media than on websites. Consider following businesses on Facebook and Instagram and subscribing to online newsletters for the best ways to stay in touch.