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Ways You Can Support Local Small Businesses

Many Americans are looking to support small businesses in their community by focusing more of their shopping locally. These tips can help you do so.

By Mike Azzara | American Express Credit Intel Freelance Contributor

7 Min Read | June 29, 2020 in Cards



Nearly all U.S. businesses are small (fewer than 500 employees), and as a group they’re considered critically important to economic health.

But they’re challenged now more than ever in the aftermath of the early 2020 economic downturn.

Many Americans are directing more of their spending toward local small businesses.

Sometimes, we’re doing it out of a sense of community support; and sometimes, because these are the shops that were there for us in the past—and we want them there when we need them next.

The importance of small businesses to the American economy has been widely discussed by U.S. economists. But what about the importance of small shops to American people? The desire to help our favorite trusted small business, from restaurants to yoga instructors, auto mechanics, landscapers, lighting stores, and you name it, is more apparent now than ever.


I called them “trusted” because that’s the word that jumped out of the feedback I received from an informal survey of friends and colleagues, asking for how they’re showing support for small businesses, and why. I was surprised by the number of creative ways people are showing support. Those ways are listed below, along with some of the stories behind them.


Small Businesses Make Up Nearly All Businesses

But first, you may also be surprised to learn that the nearly 31 million American small businesses make up 99.9% of all U.S. businesses and employ 59.9 million people (47.3% of all American workers), according to the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 2019 Small Business Profile.1 No wonder small businesses are often called the backbone of local communities. Small businesses are also widely acclaimed to be the economy’s primary innovation engine and sources of new job growth.


Besides acknowledging small business’ “backbone” role in their communities, the approximately two dozen respondents to my survey shared stories of small local shops’ quality and dedication to customers, craft, and service—not to mention their resilience to innovate in the face of the early 2020 downturn. And yes, trust. All of that inspired the many ways those friends and colleagues have found to support their local small business communities.


Survey Shows How Others Support Local Small Businesses—And You Can, Too

Here’s a roundup of ideas for how you can support local small businesses, from my survey plus web research.


  1. Donate your talent: Whatever you can do, or think you can, offer to do it for your favorite small business:
    • My friend Dave, a tech guru, built an online ordering system that accepts credit cards for a restaurant in his St. Louis neighborhood.
    • Sal, a tech writer, offered to help a local King of Prussia, PA, tavern re-imagine its events as Zoom conferences.
    • Marianne, a marketer with research expertise, is helping small businesses in New York and New Jersey understand and sort through the complex maze of Payment Protection Plan (PPP) loan options.

  3. Pay it forward: The gift card/certificate purchase was highly popular in my survey and on the web:
    • I bought gift certificates from Angela, the “Gustatory Guardian Angel”/Italian restaurant owner. But others have been far cleverer.
    • Peter loves his local small “record” store (what millennials would know as “vinyl”). He bought a year’s worth of gift cards as presents, in advance, for birthdays, graduations, and other anticipated events.
    • My favorite approach was this: you buy a $10 gift card to support your favorite small business and give it to a friend, along with a kind of chain letter encouraging your friend to buy a card and gift it to someone else.2 And so on, and so on.

  5. Buy local produce: This is a win-win; a way to eat healthier while supporting a local farm:
    • For $20 a week, Peter gets a delivery of fresh vegetables every Friday.
    • Even though these businesses aren’t local to him, Elliot buys the bulk of his food from two small family-run farms he found in Pennsylvania and in Maryland.
    • Megan explains the concept of “community supported agriculture” (CSA)—a way to support farms that are local—in her article, “How to Eat Healthy on a Budget.”

  7. Accelerate projects you planned to do later: This way to support your local small businesses was very popular among my survey respondents.  Some of their ideas:
    • Adam re-landscaped his front yard and then replaced all the outdoor lights, supporting his landscapers and a local lighting store.
    • Mitch is having his house painted.
    • Steve bought new tires ahead of schedule from a mechanic he’s done business with for 20+ years.

  9. Review small businesses in social media: The way people make purchase decisions nowadays is likely to be through research online, and your genuinely good experience can provide valuable influence. A good alternative to writing your own reviews is simply to amplify others’ posts. And while you may not have found your favorite small business online before, it pays to look again—more are coming online all the time (for more, read “Local Small Business Shopping Surges Online.”)

  11. Be thoughtful about cash vs. credit card: While some small businesses still prefer cash, people in my survey found that many small shops felt safer with credit cards—and some outright refused cash as a potential source of germs. Mark told me he generally uses credit cards—because he doesn’t know where that cash has been—and in rare instances when he has used cash, he tells the shopkeeper to keep the change. If you do choose credit, this may be a good time to make sure your credit card is enabled for contactless payments.

  13. Be on the lookout for new initiatives that support small shops: When you’re doing everyday shopping, consider searching for new promotions or offers that give back to small businesses. Is your favorite retailer donating a portion of proceeds from a new launch to small businesses? Is an artist or chef you admire creating a new photo project or cookbook to support local shops?

  15. Tip well: If you’re lucky enough to be financially sound during hard economic times, you can help those who are struggling with a little extra in the tip jar. Just about everyone in my survey mentioned tipping higher amounts than “normal”—especially for food and grocery delivery. My favorite story came from Bob, who, on a humanitarian whim, tipped his sandwich maker at a local deli with a $100 bill. The fellow was speechless!

  17. Donate tickets: Of the small local and regional theaters that have had to cancel events this year, most of the ones I know are offering refunds—but they point out that they’d be happy to keep your refund as a donation. Local and regional theaters are usually nonprofits, so if you donate you may want to consult a tax professional to see if it’s deductible.

  19. Buy direct: Several survey takers pointed out that the big national delivery services take a large share of the price you pay, for example, for delivering food from a restaurant. So unless you buy directly from the small business you’re looking to support, and let them do the delivery or choose curbside pick-up, you may not be supporting them as much as you planned.


The Takeaway

Small businesses are the backbone of local communities and an important source of innovation and job growth. But many are under greater pressure as a result of the early 2020 health crisis and economic downturn. If you have the financial means, and wish to support a favorite local small business, these tips and examples can provide suggestions and help to spark your own ideas.

Mike Azzara

Mike Azzara has covered technology and financial services issues for more than 30 years as a writer, editor, publisher, consultant, and analyst for media brands, startups, and established corporations.


All Credit Intel content is written by freelance authors and commissioned and paid for by American Express. 

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