At the beginning of the outbreak, everyone was urged to stay home. Don’t make unessential trips. Don’t go shopping. Restaurants operated as take-out only. Theaters and sport stadiums closed. Life boiled down to the bare necessities.
As time passed and more about COVID-19 became known, businesses slowly began to re-open. The previous norms of frivolous shopping and outings became a possibility again with new guidelines and mask mandates. The economy started to show signs of recovery.
But the pandemic hit businesses hard, and the importance of supporting local businesses and restaurants has never been higher.
For Orange City native Will Minnick, a sophomore history major, supporting local businesses has turned into supporting people he knows.
“I know a lot of the owners,” he said. “These times are crazy, and small businesses have really been shaken up, wondering how they will make a living. During my time at home, my family ordered a lot of stuff via takeout and brought it home to enjoy as a way to support restaurant owners.”
The Orange City Chamber, Orange City Betterment Board and the Alton City Chambers partnered in March 2020 to create the Retail and Restaurant Rebate Bucks program as a response to local businesses closing or reducing their hours and services. Residents could save their receipts from local businesses and restaurants and turn them into the Chamber office to receive $10 of “Rebate Bucks.”
According to the Orange City, Iowa, website, this tactic was successful in reaching the goal of $1 million being spent locally, helping small businesses out during the beginning of the pandemic.
One store that stood to benefit from the rebate program is Holland House, which is dedicated to home décor, furniture and women’s clothing. Owner and interior designer Marie Hofmeyer moved back to Orange City in 2010 and built her store from the ground up.
“It can be difficult to continue to do business if we do not have people purchasing from us throughout the year,” Hofmeyer said. “During the mandated shutdown, that proved the point even more how important it is to have local support. Holland House was able to continue to do online ordering for our customers, we were able to do curbside pick-up and delivery as well as shipping. We were shown a lot of support from Orange City as well as many other surrounding areas.”
For Holland House, having students back in the community means having an extra vibrancy.
“I love when we have students shopping in Holland House and seeing them walk around downtown. We would love to connect with them even more and find ways to get them involved in our community,” Hofmeyer said.
For Whitney Erickson, a sophomore elementary education major, shopping local is a way of showing support.
“All the local businesses in town have a way of making their customers feel welcome and invited,” she said. “They work hard to make their businesses thrive, and it’s important we give them the support they need as members of the community.”
Besides local retailers, there are a number of locally owned restaurants, like Town Square CoffeeHouse, that had to quickly change the way they do business.
For owner and operator Steve Mahr, the reality of the pandemic was a big deal.
“Our business has seen about a 45% decrease in sales. It sucks,” Mahr said. “When you buy local, you may not see the direct benefits in the short term. But what you see in the long term is that your downtown or local commercial spaces aren’t vacant after a long economic downturn. Shopping local helps sustain a community so that when a crisis is over, your community still has the amenities that attract new people to your community.”
With students returning to college, Orange City gains at least 1,000 more potential customers.
Mahr depends on this influx to create and sustain an inclusive community eatery and gathering place.
“Dordt and Northwestern students play a core part of developing our coffee house into the space it is,” he said. “We cherish all y’all.”
A complete directory of businesses in the community can be found online at orangecityiowa.com/business.