Saving our local businesses should be one of our City’s highest priorities. Our small businesses give Evanston a distinctive sense of place, quality and belonging, and they strengthen our local economy. They create high quality jobs and generate tax revenue.
As a result of fallout from Covid-19, our downtown is in a state of urgency. The City of Evanston should deliver innovative strategies and support to our small businesses immediately to help them survive and succeed during and post pandemic and to protect our downtown. Spending resources and funds to support our small businesses now and after the crisis is an investment with many returns for our City, our downtown, and the residents in revenue, sustainability and in quality of living.
Many cities realized they cannot rely on federal stimulus to keep their local entrepreneurs afloat and their downtowns thriving. Cities across the nation have found innovative and creative ways to help keep local businesses afloat. Across the nation many municipalities have invested in their small businesses, understanding that if they do not, their city centers will dramatically deteriorate, businesses will be forced to close and the quality of living for residents will decline as a result.
The City of Evanston should adopt some of the innovative measures taken by other cities throughout the U.S. to protect their local businesses. And where necessary, allocate resources, for example, from the city’s economic development and capital improvement programs to supplement the State and Federal Covid-19 relief funds to better support our local businesses through the pandemic.
We can do better for our Evanston small businesses. As Alderman, I will lead by proactively identifying and pushing for the implementation of effective solutions that protect and bolster our local businesses. Here is a sampling of what other cities are doing to keep their small businesses afloat through and post pandemic and post (I’m happy to provide specific cities that have implemented these policies and practices. Feel free to write me to ask):
- Creating small business COVID-19 relief programs that offer cash grants (well beyond Evanston’s very limited and highly specified ‘up to $2500’ Micro-enterprise grants, funded through the federal CARES Act, and which ended Sept.15) to cover operating costs, rents, utilities, and expenses for PPE, etc.; providing interest-free loans with repayment deferred for at least a year and no penalty for paying loans back early. Community-based financial relief programs have been more efficient at quickly getting money to small businesses than state and federal programs.
- Streamlining all permitting processes such as allowing businesses to expand operations onto sidewalks and allow more bars and restaurants to add sidewalk and street seating.
- Closing roads and waiving the normal permitting process in order to create and expand spaces for pedestrians to walk and gather safely.
- Passing ordinances and emergency orders that defer or forgive payments on property, employment, and sales taxes, and utility payments until sales return to a sustainable level.
- Surveying businesses regularly to identify specific needs and to tailor relief programs.
- Purchasing sidewalk tents, windbreaks and heat lamps in bulk for local area businesses.
- Purchasing $35 gift cards for every household that are redeemable at all the local restaurants.
- Financing downtown/local business recovery with pension funds via community/local/ banks and credit unions. Recognizing the need for greater capital/ liquidity locally during the recovery period, the pension fund pays local lenders the amount borrowed by small businesses plus a share of interest. As borrowers repay loans, those funds get funneled back through the lender into the pension fund’s coffers. Small business lending will be an important part of rejuvenation and local banks are best positioned to monitor and assess local businesses. Having a strong local economy is in the best interest of our public employees.
- Adopting a local-first procurement policy that directs public spending to support local businesses that helps to keep them afloat.
- Passing ordinances that cap the amount that app-based delivery services can charge (like DoorDash, GrubHub, Postmates etc.). Fees often begin at 20-35% and with commissions and more can go as high as 60%.
- Making access to capital easier for minority-and-women-owned businesses through community banks, credit unions and CDFI’s (Community Development Financial Institutions). Creating special programs to improve access to capital for people of color, women and immigrants by, for example, creating credit enhancement and designated loan guarantee programs.
- Helping businesses negotiate with landlords to relieve rent pressure by creating three way partnerships.
- Buying supplies and fixtures in bulk to help businesses adapt. By buying, for example, hand sanitizer dispensers, PPE, no-touch trash cans, window signs, plexiglass barriers, tables and chairs for outdoor dining, etc. in bulk, these items are more affordable and alleviates the burden for business owners of tracking them down.
- Adopting a formula business (“big box”) ordinance that sets appropriate limits on new commercial developments and curbs the proliferation of formula businesses to preserve opportunities for local entrepreneurs; limiting the development of large corporate chains to better support small business post pandemic recovery and survival.