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Building Entrepreneurial Communities

In a word, resilient

Life has been doling out lemons to our small, locally owned businesses, so they are busy making lemonade. While social distancing, they are thinking outside the box, engaging through social media, transitioning to online shopping, and identifying new ways to interact with their customers. They are resilient!

On East Main Street in Ridgway, population 869, the Village Boutique has been keeping kids stylish for almost 44 years. While it was tough closing their store front, the pandemic provided the push needed to launch a new online web presence. As they build the inventory section, the owners share screenshots with Facebook followers of new items uploaded to the site. As a thank you during this difficult time, everything ships for free.

On the courthouse square in Vienna, Emily Kerley with Milkmaid Creations and Antiques reaches her customers through live demonstrations, video chats, and Facebook Live sales. She is sharing her talents through virtual painting classes, and by packaging take home DIY kits. She has created new ways for her customers to shop from home. While the store is closed to foot traffic, Emily is providing no contact pickup, no contact local delivery, and shipping. 

Cordavino’s Italian Kitchen in southern Illinois’ super city Metropolis is offering family meals. Spaghetti and chicken fettuccine alfredo with a salad and fresh bread are available to feed your family of four. Fresh, in-house made lasagna is available with a 24-hour notice. Those of us who love Italian food can order online, call ahead for curbside pickup, or request local delivery.

In Harrisburg, Dream Baskets posts daily lunch-to-go specials on Facebook. Customers can order online or call for sidewalk pickup. Free local lunch delivery is available for orders of six or more. In addition to their healthy lunch options and fresh baked goods, comfort foods and heat-at-home meals for four are available with advance notice. Select take-and-bake meals are ready in the cooler section at Hathaway One Stop. If you need a gift or a family dinner, Dream Baskets will put it all together and bring it to your porch.

On south Main Street in Anna, Davis Pastry, home of the pink cookie since 1953, is delivering curbside to their delighted customers. To ensure that no one goes without their famous pink cookies, Davis Pastry is also accepting online orders for 2-dozen boxes for shipment anywhere in the country. To thank their loyal customers for helping keep their small business going, discounts are offered on online e-gift card purchases through the end of the stay-at-home period.

Meanwhile, in Mt. Vernon, Cusumano & Sons, a wholesale fresh fruit and vegetable supplier, lost business as schools and restaurants throughout the region closed. Cusumano began offering low-cost fresh produce bundles to help families who were struggling to find fresh fruits and vegetables in their local stores. Customers are learning about upcoming dates, pickup locations, and advance order details on the Cusumano & Sons Facebook page. Cusumano is using Facebook to ask the question “Where should we go next?” On distribution day, customers don’t get out of their cars, they simply pull into the distribution site and the produce box is placed in their trunk or hatchback. This program is helping local residents stretch their food budget dollars while helping Cusumano keep their employees busy and paid.

Small businesses and local businesses, like these, are the heart of local communities. During this difficult time, they need your support. Help out by ordering take-out or delivery to keep money flowing now, when they need it. Give them a zero-interest loan by purchasing a gift card to redeem later. Let them know you have plans to come back, by rescheduling your appointment rather than canceling it. Engage with them through social media or make a purchase online. Bring attention their way, by ordering their swag, posting a photo, tagging them on social media, or sharing their posts with your Facebook friends. The little things you do today will help the heart of your community keep beating. When we work together, we are resilient!

Susan Odum is a University of Illinois Extension Specialist in Community and Economic Development, specializing in community development and planning. She graduated summa cum laude from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale with a Master of Business Administration in 2003. In 2009, she received nationally-recognized certification as a professional community and economic developer from the Community Development Council. Her office is in Marion.