Comment: Help small businesses continue their community role

The pandemic and supply chain issues have made it tough for local shops. They need your support.

By Patti Gibbons / For The Herald

Operating a small business comes with any number of challenges, but add in a pandemic and suddenly you face struggles you never dreamed of.

It’s no wonder so many communities have lost beloved businesses over the last year. In Washington state, 14 percent of small businesses still had their doors closed in July even as our state reopened.

Recently, National Small Business Week, Sept. 13-17, recognized the critical contributions of America’s entrepreneurs and small business owners. For my fellow small businesses who are still working hard everyday, you are not alone. We are in this together.

Having access to the vaccine means many of us are re-opening our storefronts, welcoming customers back in person. Even still, with the delta variant and so many other unknown variables, we will have many more challenges to overcome; but I know with the support of our community and by supporting each other, we can make it through.

I’ve overcome a number of struggles in my life to build my business, “Heavenly Soap.” I was addicted to alcohol for 30 years and fought for my sobriety. This year, I celebrate 18 years of sobriety and 15 years of owning my own business. When I started making soap, I had no intention of starting a business. I just wanted to see if I could do it and maybe sell some to my friends. Now I’ve expanded to a storefront in downtown Monroe and customers all over the country.

In growing my business, I used social media to reach new customers and keep current ones. Even before the pandemic, Facebook felt comfortable for me. I got into a groove of doing regular Facebook Live events, interacting with new customers in places I’d never dreamed of going; and never dreamed my products would reach. I’ve also experimented with social media advertising and using the Shops feature on Instagram to help expand my business’ reach. Finding new digital tools to keep and expand our customers is a key for small businesses to remain successful.

As things started opening back up, the combination of social media and more in-person transactions has kept my business strong. However, this support also exposes a new challenge stemming from the pandemic.

The supply chain issues affecting big corporations are also hurting small businesses like mine. The lye I need to produce my soap is in short supply and the costs have skyrocketed. Local restaurants are also feeling the pinch, unable to get the ingredients they need to serve customers every day. The businesses that survived the pandemic are now having to temporarily close their doors for days at a time without the products they need. Small business owners are faced with having to raise prices for the customers they’ve fought so hard to keep or bring back.

This week and every week, I ask you to remember that small businesses still need your support. Keep shopping local and supporting small businesses on social media. We also need your understanding. While we face supply issues, we’ll work hard to keep prices as low as possible, but that’s not always possible. Some of your favorite products might not always be in stock, on the shelf or on the menu. But know that we are here — open — and optimistic about the future.

I also want to encourage my fellow small business owners: Even in challenging times, we work hard to find solutions. We are in this together. We must support each other, encourage our customers to seek out businesses like ours. I’m here to implore you: Don’t give up on the dream that led you to start your business in the first place.

Small businesses have always been the backbone of our community; and they will continue to be.

Patti Gibbons operates Heavenly Soap in Monroe.

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