Love For Local Business in the time of COVID-19

Seth Ward  |  Wednesday Apr. 1st, 2020


As I sit down to write, the local economy and social landscape is changing quickly and dramatically. Life will have changed more by the time this gets to print. The disruptions are impossible to ignore, and causing us all some anxiety, to say the least.

I am reassured to be in Bozeman during this time, where so many of us are committed to keeping it a great place to live. My whole adult life I’ve watched my community surf that distinctly Montana crest between rugged independence and care for our neighbors. These values are a sort of social collateral that we can borrow against in uncertain times.

We know how it’s done. If you’ve lived here long enough, even 10 years, you’ll remember when late March to late May in Bozeman was financially brutal and socially punishing EVERY YEAR. We called it “Off Season.” Many familiar local businesses originally learned to swim by first figuring out how to hold their breath for a month or two every spring. Eventually, the snow melted, the park opened and we all had 4 glorious months to pay bills on time before it happened again in the fall.

It wasn’t just luck and creative accounts-payable practices that saw us through.

Back then, Bozeman was a little nuts in our support for local businesses. Lifestyle magazine writers often made a point of mentioning a borderline obnoxious level of boosterism from every local they talked to. Everyone’s friend’s brother’s dog had a guide service or a catering outfit and they were sure to let you know all about it. It was that kind of rabid support that saw businesses through the lean times. They paid it back by sponsoring your kids’ softball team, or swinging your friends a deal, or maybe naming a sandwich after you.

This all adds up to something important. Your daily coffee isn’t just a cup of coffee, for example. The local shop uses a local roaster, and gets their pastries from a local bakery. The bakery spends extra to buy Montana-grown flour, eggs and honey from locally-owned distributors and grocery stores. The employees of all those companies can take the money they earn from that business and spend it in the local economy over and over again.

Which is EXACTLY what your friends and neighbors who ARE the local economy need right now. Corporate Coffee doesn’t even pretend to do any of that. Amazon? Get real.

We have what it takes to do this. It’s not going to be easy. A lot of us had been preparing (and staffing up) for a busy season. Now we need YOU to be as enthusiastic and creative in your support of local businesses as you were 10 years ago.

Now is when we rally as a community and find reasons every day to buy local. Even as you socially-distance and cut back your own spending, every dollar spent at a local business makes a difference. The multiplier effect of local dollars circulating in a community is never so important as when there aren’t as many dollars to begin with.

Your favorite restaurant delivers. The local print shop lets you upload your order online. Cactus Records has a rad selection on Ebay. Your yoga instructor is doing a live-stream class.

So get after that local boosting, Bozeman. Make it a thing that you actively do. Get creative with it. Share your ideas on social media. Then this summer when we cross paths at that rescheduled concert, we’ll smile knowingly and trade stories of how we survived the Big Off Season of 2020.   

About the Author(s)

Seth Ward

Seth is a first-generation Montanan, navigating fatherhood, marriage, business and downtown life (on a budget) in the New West. He is a freelance photographer, web designer, and aspiring artist.

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