Small businesses remain integral to community amid crisis

Editor's note: This column is part of a series by Lakeshore residents about their experiences living through the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Small businesses are the heart and soul that make our communities unique. The emergence of COVID-19 has given small business owners a difficult situation that few have ever considered. The impact of having to close a small “nonessential” business with 24 hours’ notice is not something I had ever anticipated. 

As the owner of an art gallery and custom frame shop for more than 26 years, I have endured four relocations, three periods of extended road construction, a flood, and the 2008 Great Recession. Those experiences have tested my resilience, creativity, and tenacity, giving me optimism for the future.
Uptown Gallery held a Kids' Food Basket event to gather donations.

Small business owners take a leap of faith to follow their dream of creating an experience for themselves and those they wish to serve. Providing a unique experience is what sets us apart from chain stores and online businesses. Additionally, money spent in our stores is returned to our communities when we shop, receive services, and buy homes.

Financial obligations remain

As our communities are feeling the impact of COVID-19, many small businesses have had to shut down completely, or remain open under strict guidelines. While our businesses remain shuttered, we still have obligations to pay rent/mortgage, insurance, utilities, equipment rental/payments, etc. We cannot count on receiving unemployment payments or federal subsidies, as we are normally exempt from these programs. 

Even with our financial futures in question, small businesses remain an integral part of our communities. Since Michigan mandated a shutdown of nonessential businesses, these same entrepreneurs have donated thousands of masks, gloves, and other PPE items to local hospitals to ensure the safety of their workers. We care about these workers, who are our families, friends, neighbors, and clients. Some establishments that are allowed to remain open to serve carryout food and beverages have offered free drinks to first responders and medical staff. Others are volunteering in their communities to lend a hand where they are needed.

Reach out in support

There are opportunities for you to support local small business owners within your community. Reach out to your favorite businesses and let them know that you are thinking of them. Leave a message on their answering machine or social media platform to say hello. 

Uptown Gallery & Frame Shop is located in the Railside Center off Lakewood Blvd in Holland.
Better yet, give them something to look forward to when they reopen. I have framed your son’s wedding photo, daughter’s diploma, grandfather’s WWII medals, and treasures from your loved ones. Do you have a new project I can help you with when I am back to work? Check out my website. Maybe your blank wall really needs to have a new piece of art. 

We are feeling very socially isolated from our workplaces. It’s more than a job to us. For many, it is our livelihood and retirement investment. Stay connected and bring us your business as soon we are open again.

All small businesses are eager to reopen after the financial hardship of COVID-19. We are innovators and survivors, and hope to thrive again with your support. 

Kathleen Leshner is owner-operator of Uptown Gallery & Frame Shop in Holland. 

This article is part of The Lakeshore, a new featured section of Rapid Growth focused on West Michigan's Lakeshore region. Over the coming months, Rapid Growth will be expanding to cover the complex challenges in this community by focusing on the organizations, projects, programs and individuals working to improve conditions and solve problems for their region. As the coverage continues, look for The Lakeshore publication, coming in 2020.