by Jenny Boulware, Main Street South Carolina manager
The consequences of COVID-19 have been incredibly far-reaching — for lives, for health and for livelihoods. In recent months, the public and nonprofit sectors have worked tirelessly and resourcefully to help small businesses pivot through the disruptions that the public health emergency has created. As South Carolina works toward recovery, downtown economic development programs are providing critically important guidance to their businesses about reopening.
One of the first recovery initiatives that many of Main Street South Carolina’s communities pursued was the surveying of potential customers to understand their comfort levels for crowds, visiting businesses and online shopping habits. Resident surveys conducted across the state revealed that many consumers want public hand sanitizer stations and expanded online presence for greater shopping options. They wish to avoid large crowds, especially indoors, until the danger is decreased, but even so, the majority of consumers surveyed are ready to patronize businesses again. Survey results have been shared with municipal leadership and the business community to inform reopening processes.
Other initiatives include providing direct financial assistance to downtown businesses, similar to Paycheck Protection Program funding. Several of South Carolina’s Main Street communities have taken the lead on developing new business models. For instance, the City of Beaufort created ordinances to provide expanded outdoor dining options. Uptown Greenwood and Downtown Florence are examples of those who developed online COVID-19 resource pages — including reopening tips — for local businesses. These are updated daily as new information comes available. Recovery task forces have also been established to guide reopening strategies.
City and town governments can consider building greater flexibility into local codes to allow for emerging innovations in response to changing realities. This could include providing generous 10-minute parking spaces to accommodate curbside pickups for restaurants and retailers. It could also include developing uniform signage to explain expectations and precautions while shopping, dining and exploring downtown. Coordinated training can assist local businesses who are developing or expanding their online presence. Pages on the city’s website with lists of resources can help small businesses and nonprofits keep up with any available funding opportunities.
While the pace of reopening is gradual, reviving South Carolina’s local economies with a thorough support plan for reopening is critical. Additional reopening strategies, ideas, hints and tips for businesses, business districts and organizations can be found at the Reopen Main Street website of the Downtown Professionals Network.
In April, Main Street directors in Laurens, Florence and Cheraw joined the City Quick Connect podcast to discuss how they are working with businesses and helping them find ways to recover. Listen to the podcast.
In April, South Carolina’s Main Street directors remotely assembled a visual message of appreciation and encouragement for their downtown communities as business owners worked to stay safe and stay in business.