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Mike Anderson column: Supporting local small businesses to keep them afloat in the new year
A collective NEW YEAR’S Resolution

Mike Anderson column: Supporting local small businesses to keep them afloat in the new year

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As Jackson & James, my small business, planned for 2020, we had high hopes for our third year in business. We were hitting our stride, zeroing in on our selection to meet demands, growing our customer base and learning from our mistakes. Then, like most small businesses, we were thrown a curveball with COVID-19.

We felt it was our duty, and in everyone’s best interest, to close our doors for several months to help flatten the curve. We were lucky that we already had an online store in place, but our primary revenue source always has been from in-store purchases.

From the very beginning, we built Jackson & James as a place where you would feel welcome, whether it was your first or 14th time shopping; where you could see and feel the quality of the fabrics; where you could learn about the makers who handcrafted your denim. In short, we thrive when customers come into our store. So much of what makes us Jackson & James is lost on a website. We chose to open our store in Scott’s Addition, which always has been a draw for both locals and out-of-towners, thanks to the amazing restaurants, breweries and entertainment spots. But most of the natural foot traffic from people spending an afternoon in the neighborhood is gone, meaning much of our business dried up, too.

In June, we started to turn the corner. While we’re open to the public again, our new normal definitely looks and feels different. We’re welcoming customers to a safe and clean environment with smiles behind masks. We’re providing the same in-person Jackson & James experience into an online transaction to customers who might never see the inside of our store. We’ve expanded the way we serve our customers with free curbside pickup and delivery. We’ve updated our online inventory to include more gifts and home goods. With COVID-19 cases rising again and potential lockdowns, we’re glad we have the infrastructure in place to be flexible.

Part of what makes us flexible is our ability to use social media to reach customers and make sales, especially now. Customers are able to keep up with what’s happening at the shop through our Instagram and Facebook posts, helping us stay connected even when we can’t see them in person. Engagement through social media has proven to be more important than ever, and if readers want to support small businesses, they can share and like those posts and promote their favorite local businesses to their own networks. We consistently find that referrals far and away are the most valuable source of new business, and when customers leverage tools like Instagram, Facebook and other sites, that is incredibly valuable to all of us.

Owning a retail store during a pandemic isn’t easy, but 2020 has had its bright spots. We love Richmond and continually are inspired by our fellow small-business owners’ creativity, as well as the way our city continues to support them.

We’re grateful we’ve met so many amazing people, customers and friends in this small business journey. Richmond showed up for the holiday season, and we truly appreciate that folks consciously chose to shop small and shop local. Federal and local assistance has been vital and while we’re hopeful for more, nothing can match the level of support by our neighbors who choose to keep their dollars in the community.

Throughout the holiday season, we’ve seen people and brands promote small business shopping over big-box stores and online retailers, and this is a trend we hope continues for many seasons.

Even after things return to “normal” and the evident signs of the pandemic have passed (restrictions, masks, etc.), please know that many local businesses who have survived still will be hurting. Most independent businesses will have dipped into savings or taken on significant debt to stay in business — with diminished revenues in 2020 and likely for a good chunk of 2021, it likely will take years for most to recover.

So this is the collective New Year’s resolution we would love to see from our community: a commitment to support all the places in Richmond that have contributed in so many ways to our city and its growth. That investment will be paid back in the form of jobs and dollars that stay in our community, continued enrichment of our city’s character, vibrance and diversity, and deep appreciation from your neighbors.

Mike Anderson is the co-founder and co-owner of Jackson & James in Richmond. Contact him at:

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