Downtown Developments: Georgia Small Business Open for Innovation

Chris Higdon, GMA Community Development Manager

In my position working for GMA and the Georgia Cities Foundation, I have marveled at the innovation I have seen around the state during this crisis. While no longer able to conduct business as usual, small businesses have reacted with creativity and determination. Local governments, development authorities and other orga­nizations have likewise found ways to respond to the needs of their local business community.

Showpony's 'We Give a Shirt' campaign.
Showpony, a marketing and promotions company in Downtown Augusta, launched their #WeGiveaShirt campaign.
The small businesses mentioned here are among the many creative and nimble entrepreneurs in our state that are fighting for survival through new and innovative ways of doing business. These businesses are no doubt fighting a difficult fight. The purpose of highlighting them isn’t simply to provide much-needed good news, but to also share examples and spark ideas.
The Restaurant as a General Store: Many restaurants around the state utilized their supply chain, which is separate from those serving the grocery stores, to pro­vide difficult-to-find items to their community (flour, eggs, toilet paper, etc.). Through providing this service, the X-Factor Grill, located in Downtown Toccoa, discov­ered their venue was the preferred and safest option for people who are immunocompromised, because of the decreased contact with other grocery shoppers.
Adding New Products: Many restaurants around the state have started to provide family meals to-go instead of, or in addition to, their normal menu. Isaac’s Bakery in Downtown Bainbridge used social media to pre-sell their petit fours, which were rarely offered before. The bakery sold enough in one weekend to pay a month’s mortgage.
Providing Safe Entertainment: Shenanigans restau­rant in Dahlonega has provided weekly entertainment in addition to their curbside service. Their Sunset Drive-in Concert series allows guests to park within view of the band and enjoy live music, food and beverage from the comfort (and safety) of their cars. Maddy’s Public House in Downtown Washington continued their weekly team trivia virtually. Conducted live, but with participants playing from home, they provided entertainment to their customers and had a “tip jar” to raise funds for dis­placed staff.
Restaurants as Fundraisers: Restaurants have been leaders in providing food for people in need during this crisis. Salaryman, in the Kirkwood neighborhood of Atlanta, has an option to provide a meal for a medical worker at the local VA Hospital each week. Fat Man’s Café in Augusta has partnered with Augusta Universi­ty and 54 other local restaurants and food purveyors to provide discounted gift cards to healthcare workers through their #OurAUHeroes program.
Drinks To-Go: One of the most talked about restaurant innovations during this pandemic has been to-go alco­hol offerings. As many communities have relaxed their regulations on restaurant alcohol sales, restaurants have found creative ways to fill the void lost from their on-site drink sales. The Southern Philosophy Brewing in Bain­bridge purchased a Crowler machine, which seals draft beer in a 32 ounce can, to offer to-go packaging that complies with Bainbridge’s open container entertain­ment district ordinance.
Virtual and Appointment Retail: Some retailers have found innovative ways to serve their customers safely while adhering to social distancing practices. Troup’s Studio and Gifts, a Toccoa-based Hallmark retailer, offers a personal shopping service where an em­ployee will walk through the store to help you shop virtually from the safety of your home. Story on the Square, a bookstore in McDonough, offered private shopping hours by appointment to limit the number of customers in the shop to safe standards.
Some retailers are using Facebook Live to reach their customers in new and creative ways, including Reeves Gifts, Jewelry & More in Bainbridge, who use this live streaming option for virtual sales. Buyers simply comment live when they want a product and then the item can be picked up curbside or delivered locally. A group of local retailers in Downtown Washington have created a regular Face­book Live streaming event, alternating retailers, creat­ing what some people have called a virtual Washington Downtown Shopping Network.

The Business of Safety: Some small businesses have actually gone into the business of providing COVID-19 safety products. In addition to providing signage to assist in social distancing, Keen Signs & Graphics in Augusta added a new product line by modifying their equipment to manufacture sneeze guards for essential businesses. Pretoria Fields Brewery in Downtown Albany was one of the earliest companies in Georgia to switch part of their production capacity into making hand sanitizer, which is now available throughout the state.
New Ways to be Seen: Movie theaters, as with oth­er entertainment venues, have effectively been shut down during the pandemic. Ciné, an art house theater in Downtown Athens, offers paid streaming options of their current releases for safe, at-home viewing.
Retail as a Fundraiser: Showpony, a marketing and promotions com­pany in Downtown Augusta, has launched their #WeGiveaShirt campaign. Showpony works with small businesses to cre­ate limited edition t-shirts, sold online for only a week and then shipped directly to the customer. The profits then go to the small business featured. To date, this campaign has raised over $110,000 for small businesses af­fected by the pandemic.

This article appears in the May/June 2020 edition of Georgia’s Cities Magazine.

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