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Local Businesses Ready and Able

Community support unwavering during pandemic

By Colin Anderson

After a spring at home, people are ready to stretch their legs, enjoy the warm summer rays and begin to find a sense of normalcy after day-to-day life was turned upside down. Something as simple as sitting down in a restaurant or shopping at your favorite local retailer will bring great comfort to families and individuals. While life changed and we are unsure of just how different it will be for certain, one thing that hasn’t changed is the community spirit surrounding Gig Harbor and especially its downtown core. “Small, independent businesses are the foundation of every community,” explained Gig Harbor Waterfront Alliance Executive Director Mary DesMarais. The mission of the Alliance is to bring together community by encouraging economic vitality while preserving the historic character of Gig Harbor. Like every other family, business or organization, Mary and her staff had to pivot and find new ways in which to continue to promote local businesses despite the restrictions put into place. She admits at first the shock, fear and worry came pouring in, but as more information became available, the Alliance was able to provide more answers to the region’s small-business owners.

“We have been learning together, and we have tried to keep the businesses informed as information and regulations come out of the governor’s office. Answers are starting to appear, albeit sometimes vague, leaving businesses wondering what they can do and when,” said Mary.

Well-run businesses are adaptable, and many of the waterfront businesses in Gig Harbor are doing just that. Restaurants that were previously not doing takeout or delivery changed their models. Local diners could still get their favorite entrees and at least some wait staff was able to maintain employment.

“Many businesses are walking boldly into survival mode, creating new and clever ways to run their business,” said Mary. Some retailers are creating a very strong social media presence and pivoting their business model to adapt to noncontact retail. “We are also seeing relationships among businesses being strengthened—neighbors helping neighbors.”

This was especially true from the onset of restrictions. After the initial shock, many residents contacted organizations like the Gig Harbor Waterfront Alliance to see what they could do to help struggling local businesses. With the combined effort of all three Gig Harbor rotary clubs, restaurants that are serving takeout were identified, and members and their families were encouraged to place an order. A different local restaurant is highlighted each week—and the results speak for themselves. “When Anthony’s was the designated restaurant, they had 119 dinners ordered!” Mary said.

There are also countless stories of individuals stepping up. Larger tips to servers, stimulus check donations to local community organizations in need, sewing groups coming together to make masks for essential workers, and even children writing inspiring messages on sidewalks. Gig Harbor local Wendy O’Neil raised $15,000, which she distributed to small locally owned businesses. Michelle Brenner has been spending her days making her favorite lasagna, freezing it, and leaving it outside her front door for anyone to come and take away at no charge.

Despite the outpouring of support from the community, many businesses are struggling, having been put in a very difficult financial situation. Rules for the government’s forgivable loan program are often changing and confusing, and small businesses across the country have reported trouble getting access to the funds. This is just one of the areas that the Downtown Waterfront Alliance is helping its members. The Alliance has been in direct communication with many businesses, giving them updated resources on loans and grant money, and also creating an online business resource series in reopening strategies and messaging.

Social media can be a place of negativity, but it is also a powerful tool for information. The Alliance’s ‘Where on the Waterfront’ campaign keeps businesses on the forefront of people’s minds and also provides information on which businesses are open for takeout or limited-seated dining, and which retailers are offering delivery, curbside or open-door shopping experiences.

“In this pandemic, we are seeing a strengthening bond between our downtown and the community. It is evident that our residents are supporting these businesses as best they can and recognize the businesses are the backbone of the community,” said Mary.

According to Ed McMahon, chair of the National Main Street Center Board of Directors: “Downtown is important because it’s the heart and soul of any community. If you don’t have a healthy downtown, you simply don’t have a healthy town.

In communities like Gig Harbor, small locally owned businesses are the lifeblood that give the town its character and make it a desirable place to live. Shops and restaurants employ local residents who in turn spend their paychecks at other local businesses. Taxes businesses pay go to funding parks and services, historical preservation and green space. Local business owners are much more likely to make donations of goods, services or cash to local schools and organizations, which have a direct impact on the youth of the community and the most vulnerable.

No one knows exactly what the country will look like weeks, months and even years down the road. Many are anxious to resume life as they once knew it while others including vulnerable populations might have their day-to-day lives changed forever. No matter your situation, everyone can find a way to help keep local Gig Harbor businesses going, which in turn helps keep the community unique, vibrant and beautiful. If you can’t yet visit your favorite store or restaurant, or don’t feel comfortable resuming normal activities, there are many ways you can continue to show your support.

• Shop online with curbside pickup.

• Purchase gift certificates.

• Order takeout.

• Send them a note of encouragement.

• Tag them online; do an online review.

• Get ready to go shopping and eating at your favorite restaurant as we move into the next phase.

Summer is an incredible time along Harborview Drive, the marinas and Skansie Brothers Park. Businesses are ready to welcome you back and provide a sense of normal in a time that’s anything but. Whether it’s a bite to eat, growler of local beer, handmade gift or paddleboard rental, each dollar spent in the community helps keep the community great. Buy local and keep Gig Harbor wonderful tomorrow and each day forward.

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