Portland Buy Local efforts in the wake of COVID-19

Allowing Non-Essential Businesses to Ship and Deliver

Portland Buy Local was a critical voice in pushing Portland’s City Council to allow local businesses to ship and deliver.

During the shutdown, non-essential businesses like local bookstores were forced to close their doors to the public, eliminating any income, while expenses like commercial rent, health insurance, and grocery bills continued to pile on.

Meanwhile, big box stores like Wal-mart and Target were allowed to be open and sell non-essential items because they also sell essential goods, like groceries, and Amazon’s power on the market continued to grow at unprecedented rates.

We immediately spoke out about the unintended consequences of this restriction – which would have damaged our local business community’s ability to make it through the crisis, while furthering corporate consolidation.

We empowered local business owners to connect with our elected leaders by providing a form letter for them to use. Within hours, the City issued a statement saying it would not enforce the restriction, and scheduled an emergency meeting to address the issue. The following week, the Council reversed course unanimously — allowing local businesses to do safe, no-contact sales to bring in at least a portion of their typical income.

Federal Stimulus Proposal and Push for Local Business Support

  • Portland Buy Local sprung to action as soon as it became clear that coronavirus would be impacting our local business community.
  • On March 20, Portland Buy Local put forward a proposal with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and other Buy Local organizations across the country.
  • This was within the first week of businesses closing, and prior to Maine shutting down.
  • This coalition recognized the needs of small businesses and immediately put forth concrete proposals, many of which were reflected in the CARES Act.

Following the passage of the CARES Act, Portland Buy Local took action by:

  • Engaging with Senator Angus King in a Town Hall event with PBL and answer questions submitted by local business owners and community members.
  • Writing a petition to our Congressional Delegation about problems with the implementation of the PPP/EIDL. More than 200 businesses and individuals signed on.
  • Regularly contacting Maine’s Congressional Delegation to lift up the voices and concerns of local business owners.

Local Advocacy

Grants and loans for local businesses

Because of federal funding being slow, insufficient, and poorly implemented, Portland Buy Local stepped forward to help push for state and city to do grants for micro-sized businesses.

Our Executive Director convened a group comprised of Portland Downtown, Chamber of Commerce, Visit Portland, and Nelle Hanig from the City’s Economic Development Department. Others were also invited: Institute for Family-Owned Businesses and Greater Portland Council of Government. The group met weekly and we continuously pushed the need for grants for microbusinesses. To date, the City of Portland passed three business grant and loan programs for microbusinesses.

Pre-mixed cocktails to keep local restaurants and bars afloat

Recognizing that local bars have the potential to make more income if they are able to deliver or offer takeout for pre-mixed cocktails, we worked with Hunt + Alpine Club, Arcadia National Bar, and others to campaign for and publicize a template letter that advocated for this change.

The letter was sent out on a Friday and the change was approved the following Monday, resulting in bars and restaurants being allowed to sell pre-mixed cocktails to go.

Partial street closures to allow for safer shopping and dining

Mary Alice partnered with Portland Trails, Portland Society for Architecture, Bicycle Coalition of Maine, and Build Maine to create a data map for the City to show businesses outside of the Old Port who would be interested in participating in the program, in hopes that they will expand it beyond the Old Port for easier access to curbside options at local businesses.

Advocating for Commercial Rent Support

For many local, independent businesses commercial rent is the largest monthly expense. These businesses make our community feel vibrant, and without commercial rent support, our downtown will be faced with empty storefronts.

In 2015, average commercial rent for 2,000 square foot unit increased by 2% across the US. In 2016, Portland saw an average increase in commercial leases of 21%. Even with financial relief provided to some local businesses, rent payments have become challenging with no, or greatly reduced, income for businesses in many cases. With huge commercial rents in Portland, many business owners are struggling with the decision of what bills to pay with the resources they do have. Our Executive Director was quoted in the Portland Press Herald and Bangor Daily News about the need for commercial rent support, and engaged with local, state, and federal policy makers on the matter.

Community Partnerships

Weekly Town Halls: Buy Local has partnered with Portland Downtown to organize a series of weekly Town Hall meetings for business owners to connect and get questions answered. Guests have included Julie Viola from Gorham Savings Bank, Senator Heather Sanborn (also co-owner of Rising Tide), Curtis Picard of Retail Association of Maine, and City Councilor Tae Chong.

Portland Buy Local also scheduled a virtual town hall event to offer its members and the public an opportunity to have their questions answered by Senator Angus King.

Office of Sustainability: Troy Moon from the City’s office of Sustainability interviewed our Executive Director to discuss resiliency and sustainability and how local economies tie in. You can view the interview here.

Customer Conduct Infographics for Masks, Social Distancing, and more

Portland Buy Local created modular, flexible infographics to be used across our business community so customers have recognizable, cohesive guidelines as they start returning to businesses.  Working with a local designer, we created these infographic packages to save local businesses time, money and effort communicating with the community.

 

If you would like to support our work, please consider making a donation. You can even sponsor a business – enabling businesses who are unable to pay for membership dues to access critical resources and marketing support. As a 501(c)(6) non-profit, Portland Buy Local is ineligible for the very federal support programs we advocated for, including the EIDL grant and PPP forgivable loan. As it has with businesses across Maine, the pandemic has greatly affected the financial situation of Portland Buy Local, and we’ve made large cuts to our operating budget. Donations made by individuals are not tax-deductible, but our tax status also enables us to do all of the advocacy work listed above. Your donations go directly toward helping small, local, independent businesses get access to resources and support.

 

Thank you to our Sustaining Members!

Bayside Bowl / Benchmark Real Estate / Bull Feeney’s / Caravan Beads / Casco Bay EyeCare / Casco Bay Frames & Gallery / Clark Insurance / ClickToast – Digital Advertising / Coffee By Design / CornerStone Building & Restoration / CrossFit Beacon / Emily Broadbent / The Fish & Bone / Float Harder Relaxation Center

 

Green Clean Maine / Hannah Wolken / Joan Leitzer / Knack Factory / Liquid Riot / Longfellow Books / Maine Business Immigration Coalition / Maine Outdoor Film Festival / Malone Commercial Brokers / Marsh Agency / Nine Stones Spa / Nomads / OTTO / Philip Spalding / Portland Discovery Land & Sea Tours

 

Portland Food Co-op  / Portland Downtown / Renys Department Store / Stacy Mitchell / Taproot Magazine / The SunriseGuide / The West End News / University Credit Union / Wellness Connection of Maine / XPress Copy / YMCA of Southern Maine / Young’s Furniture