The Coronavirus Outbreak Has Hurt The Wichita Economy. Here’s How You Can Help

Apr 3, 2020

This is not a good time to own a small business.

The coronavirus pandemic has upended the economy, both nationally and locally.

A statewide stay-at-home order has forced more than half the businesses in Sedgwick County – deemed nonessential – to close. According to Wichita State University’s Center for Economic Development and Business Research, those nonessential businesses represent nearly 118,000 jobs and $6.6 billion in annual payroll.

The one bright for many small businesses trying to stay afloat is a lot of people want to help in that effort.

Renee Duxler is executive director of the Douglas Design District. It includes about 500 locally owned businesses in an area stretching from Washington to Oliver and Kellogg to Second Street.

We asked her for some advice on how consumers can best help local businesses.

Shop intentionally

"I think the best thing that people can do is as they are taking a look at what food and supplies that they are needing during this time to just really be intentional about. Spend locally and try to find a local provider.

"Whether it's… family meals and eating out to things that they may need around the house or even special occasions, a lot of our specialty retail can help with those needs."

Renee Duxler is executive director of the Douglas Design District.
Credit Courtesy of Douglas Design District

Helping without spending money

Not everyone can afford to spend money right now, but Duxler says you still can help.

"Even just being vocal – whether it be on social media or otherwise – about the need to support local right now. And who their favorite businesses are and where people can find .. what they're needing or what they're looking for at a local small business."

The hidden value of a small business

"I think people will find that when they're intentional and do take the time to spend local that there's a great value in that. Our local business owners are very knowledgeable about whether it be the food … they're serving or the products that they have or the services that they provide.

"Taking that time to … reach out to a local business owner (is) … extremely valuable in terms of what you get in return for the money that you're spending."

Community advantages of spending locally

"There's definitely the benefit of getting that personal service and that value. But we also know that every dollar spent locally, we get back … about 63 cents locally as opposed to spending it at a chain or a box store, it's like 43 cents back. So that money comes back to the small business owners. That money comes back to our schools … comes back to our nonprofits and our organizations providing social services. And so there's a lot of ways that that money stays in the community and ends up benefiting the community."

Gift cards are a mixed bag

"I think that if people want to get gift cards – especially for businesses that have had to completely shut their doors, and I'm thinking in the beauty industry specifically as well as some specialty retail – that's an easy way to pop online.

"But just be mindful that if you were going to spend that money this month on a haircut or an appointment, but then … go back six weeks later and spend (the gift card) … that kind of just offsets the money that they would have received this month if you spend the gift card next month."

Preparing for the long haul

"I think that it's going to take a while even for people to feel comfortable coming back out again, even if we do get out from under a stay-at-home order. Businesses … are going to have to continue to rethink how they provide services and how they get services out there, and we just hope that the community continues to rally behind them.

"Small business here in Wichita accounts for a great deal of the economy and accounts for a great deal of the jobs creation. So supporting small business also may be supporting workers here who had been laid off or furloughed."

Tom Shine is director of news and public affairs at KMUW. He also hosts The Range every Friday on KMUW. Follow him on Twitter @thomaspshine.