Think back to chemistry class. Did you ever do the experiment in which you had to place powder in a flame to identify chemicals? If the flame turned green, it was copper sulfate. Purple? Then you were looking at potassium chloride. The thing is, all the powders looked the same. You didn’t know what they were made of until they passed through the flame.
That’s where we’re at right now. We’re going through the flame with coronavirus shutting down much of our town. How we react will show exactly what we’re made of.
Given what we know about Lowell, we think this time of testing will show that our community is made of unity, resilience and creativity. Already, we are seeing that in the way restaurants and businesses have shifted operations to stay open in the face of government mandates and health safety guidelines.
However, it will ultimately be up to us – the residents of Lowell – to decide exactly how this crisis defines us.
Yeah, we may have panicked a little at first and cleared Meijer’s shelves of ramen, bread and, weirdly, toilet paper. But we’ve got that out of our system, right? So now that you have a freezer full of chicken and a closet full of paper products, let’s all take a deep breath and think rationally about what needs to happen going forward to protect and preserve our little town.
From where we stand, there are three major areas to address.
Supporting Small Businesses
Probably the lion’s share of attention so far has focused on how to support our local businesses. That’s with good reason too. Our small businesses are the backbone of the community. They sponsor youth sports teams, hold local events and provide jobs to area workers. Plus, they create a vibrant downtown and make Lowell an attractive place to live. And when Lowell is an attractive place to live, it benefits us all with a strong tax base and good property values.
We want our local businesses to be here when this is over. However, that only happens if we are willing to keep spending money here in Lowell. Remember, these little businesses are run by our friends and neighbors. They often have razor thin margins and don’t typically have big financial reserves to sustain them through difficult times.
Right now, we want to be safe, not scared. When we are scared, we don’t tend to make smart decisions. And we need to make smart decisions about our money. To be smart, we want to focus our spending power in town, not on 28th Street and not with distant retailers online.
What does that look like for me personally? It means that for as long as my budget can sustain it, we are supporting a different local business each day. We select the business and make a quick stop, taking care to keep our distance from others and only touch the items we plan to buy. We don’t touch our faces, and we come home and wash our hands well. In this way, we have hit Hong Kong Buffet, Rookies, Larkin’s and North Star Antiques this week. Springrove Variety, Creative Party Bug and Bettie’s Pages are all on deck.
Now, would I be doing this if I were older than 60, immunocompromised or have an immunocompromised child at home? Nope. I would be hunkering down at home and making Shipt my best friend for groceries and then seeing how I could support local businesses through deliveries or online purchases. Main Street BBQ and Big Boiler Brewing are two restaurants offering deliveries, and North Star Antiques and Lavender & Lace Boutique are two examples of retail stores with online shopping portals.
This is a good time to look forward, consider what you might need in the future and make those purchases now. For instance, your anniversary might not be until summer, but you could pick out some jewelry from Chimera Design or get a gift card from A Charmed Life now. Your purchase will provide some much-needed cash to help sustain businesses until life returns to normal.
You don’t have to spend a lot to make a difference either. There about 15,000 people who live in the City of Lowell, Lowell Township and Vergennes Township, according to 2017 Census Bureau estimates. If a third of us – 5,000 people – spend $5 a day, that’s $25,000 every day and $175,000 for the next month that will be pumped into our local economy. It’s buying an activity book for your kids at Springrove or a coffee to go at Sweet Seasons.
Some of you are staring down work slowdowns and layoffs and need to horde your money for the rainy day that may be coming. That’s understandable. In your case, maybe you have some Lowell Bucks laying around the house. The Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce, which sells Lowell Bucks as gift certificates that can be used at multiple retailers, says about $13,000 of the certificates are unredeemed. If you dig yours out and spend it, that $13,000 would be a nice shot in the arm for local retailers and restaurants.
While much has been said about supporting local businesses, less has been said about our local churches. Not everyone belongs to a church, but if you do, remember that your place of worship likely has no source of income other than you. They rely on members to keep the lights on, pay the pastor and continue running support programs.
Our area churches are responsible for many ministries that go beyond their four walls and benefit the entire community. Look at Love Week and Open Table for two examples. As with our small businesses, we want to be sure that these institutions are still around after the coronavirus storm passes. However, without regular Sunday collections, churches could be in a difficult spot. It is on us, as members, to be proactive about sending in our offering each week.
Some people can’t continue to donate to church and charity during this turbulent time. Knowing that, I personally am digging a little deeper when it comes to supporting my parish. I’m looking at all the money I’m saving now that I don’t need to gas up the van so much or buy hot lunches at school and directing some of that extra to my church to help compensate for those who aren’t in a position to do likewise at this time.
Finally, we need to come together and help one another. This is hard to do right now because we aren’t supposed to be having much contact with others, right? However, here are some ideas:
If you are young and healthy, you might be able to provide childcare for someone so older grandparents don’t have to. You could volunteer to pick up groceries for your senior neighbor. You could take only one of the two packages of toilet paper left on the shelf and leave the other for someone else.
On a more basic level, supporting one another means smiling and being gracious to those we come across when we must go out. At the same time, it means understanding when someone doesn’t smile back or is curt in response. Some people are worried about their money. Some people are worried about their health. And some people simply feel anxious when routines are disrupted and the future is uncertain. It’s better for all of us if we give everyone the benefit of the doubt and trust we are all doing the best we can under the circumstances.
However, we will close with two more concrete suggestions:
1.) Donate blood if you are able. There is an ongoing need for blood for accident victims, cancer patients and others, but donations are down. Organizations are taking steps to ensure a safe donation process, and you can find a blood donation site online.
2.) Volunteer at FROM. There are a couple local non-profits that could use your donations right now – Alpha Family Center and the Baby Pantry of Lowell are two that come to mind. But Flat River Outreach Ministries at the center of support services for many in the community. If you’ve seen the FROM Volunteers of the Month, you know the organization’s helpers skew to the older generation. These are the folks who should be staying home right now and so FROM is looking for a new crew of volunteers to fill in. Visit FROM’s Facebook page for the latest news on volunteer orientations.
This is an uncertain time, but like all things, this too shall pass. And when it does, we will celebrate together and do our best to support those businesses that we could not support before. We will go watch a movie at the Ada Lowell 5, work off the popcorn’s calories at Fit Body Bootcamp and book the relaxing vacation we deserve through Adventures by Lori.
As the fire tests us, we will show our true colors. We will show that we are strong; we are safe; we are smart. We are Lowell.