What’s the best way to support local businesses that can’t open?

What's the best way to support local businesses? Gift cards and online orders can help

BOSTON — With many stores considered “non-essential” closed, what’s the best way for people who want to support local small businesses that are struggling right now?

We talked to business owners to find out what they’re doing to survive while their brick-and-mortar stores are closed to the public and the best way the public can support them.

At Mamaleh’s Delicatessen in Cambridge, their voicemail notifies customers that they are closed for all service. Rachel Miller Munzer, who co-owns the restaurant and three others with her partners at Big Dipper Hospitality Group, said they felt it was their social responsibility to close all of their restaurants, even if it meant furloughing about 120 employees. The business has been asking the community to support them by buying gift cards. “The easiest way to look at it is a loan from our customers,” she said.

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Other business owners are taking a different approach.

Jake Johnston, who co-owns The Hall of Comics in Southborough, said he’s fortunate that his business has a tangible product to ship to loyal customers and that they politely declined offers from people wanting to buy gift cards.

“It’s important to us that the people that have always supported us get some sense of normalcy if they’re stuck at home,” he said, adding that reaching out directly to businesses online or through social media is a great way to get local businesses through however long the stay-at-home advisory lasts.

“If they have a website where you can purchase things, an actual item – whether it be takeout from a restaurant, or any other retail operation like ours that’s willing to do mail-order,” he said.

Munzer too is thankful for the community support but wants state legislators to get involved and require insurance companies to accept business interruption claims due to the coronavirus shutdowns.

“Ultimately, I think the reality is that these are all very kind gestures, but nobody’s going to survive unless we have the government supporting us.” No significant action has been taken on a pending Senate bill requiring business interruption insurance cover the COVID-19 closures.

For consumers, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office is encouraging people to support local businesses right now but noted it could be impossible for them to get a refund for unused gift cards if businesses don’t end up ever reopening. Consumers with questions or complaints can call the AG’s office at 617-727-8400 or visit their website.