How many small businesses can one family reasonably save?
That's the question we're asking ourselves a lot lately at the Partnow house. We've been really fortunate that the pandemic hasn't had a significant impact on our finances (so far, but there's still time), and we've been trying to do our part to answer the call to support the local businesses that have found creative ways to operate under Safer At Home.
We had Easter baskets delivered by a life-size bunny who also happens to own our favorite play cafe. We got curbside bags of new puzzles and toys from the neighborhood toy store. I stocked up on treats from the classic candy store near our kids' gym. Our six-year-old is learning to play a ukulele that was dropped on our doorstep by a locally owned music store. I'm hiding a bag full of craft supplies from a nearby art studio to have in reserve when the kids get tired of the box fort they've built in the basement. We upped the frequency of our local meal kit deliveries from every other week to weekly. We bought gift certificates for my hairstylist, my esthetician, Seth's barber.
And then there's the takeout.
At least twice a week since March 12, we've ordered takeout or delivery from local restaurants — pizza, Thai, Chinese, Hawaiian, wings, burgers, ice cream, donuts. On Saturday morning Seth is driving to a food truck park in our old neighborhood to pick up a dozen pre-ordered bagels. We're doing our curbside grocery pickup with the local grocer instead of a big chain even though we have to order a week ahead of time to get a slot.
Despite all this economy stimulating we've been doing (which sounds like a lot, but consider that it's been spread out over six weeks), we're not broke yet, mostly because our latte budget hasn't been touched in — well, about six weeks, and it turns out two people who work from home end up spending a lot of time and money in coffee shops. (Not spending any money on expensive meals during our canceled vacation helped, too.) But we also don't know what the future looks like, and we believe pretty firmly that this new normal is going to go on for a lot longer than some people would like to think.
Then, last night, on a Zoom call with some college friends, I learned that my favorite candy store in the entire world, Economy Candy, is shipping care packages to try to stay in business.
"How much," I casually and not at all suspiciously said to Seth after I'd gotten off the call, "would you say is a reasonable amount of money for a sane adult person to spend on mystery candy to help save a New York City institution?"
I've mentioned before that I feel, as I know many of you do, like an onion made out of layers of guilt. This "shop local" mission is a piece of that. I want to save so many businesses that I hope will be able to reopen. We're in a position to help out to a certain extent, but we've only got so many thumbs and there are a lot of holes in the dike. We can't give to every fundraiser, shop with every business, spend every dollar, no matter how much we wish we could.
Of course, some local businesses are making it super easy to decide not to try to save them; just here in Milwaukee in the last week or so, two local spots have lost my business forever because of their irresponsible (and unnecessarily racist!) statements on social media. You hate to see it, but on the other hand... it's convenient when someone self-selects for elimination.
For the rest, we're just going to keep trying to do what we can, within our budget, to let our local favorites know that we value them, we miss them, and we can't wait to see them... when it's safe for them to reopen. It's the starfish approach — we might not be able to make a difference to everyone, but hopefully we can help some.
(And yes, we did manage to agree on a reasonable amount of candy money to spend. I don't want to live in a world without Economy Candy, and neither should you.)