Three friends in Birmingham were wrestling with a major dilemma created by the coronavirus pandemic: How can you lend support to your favorite restaurants and local businesses while maintaining the proper social distancing practices?
Their solution was a pay-it-forward approach. Local Distancing, an online platform, allows customers to help Birmingham-area enterprises pay staff, cover overhead and survive the crisis without having to leave the security of their homes.
Through the Local Distancing website, consumers can purchase gift certificates from a wide range of restaurants, breweries, retailers and Birmingham businesses. The site includes links to GoFundMe accounts for displaced workers.
The initiative appears to have struck a chord in the community, with more than 4,000 unique visitors in the first week eager to support more than 150 Birmingham businesses listed on the platform.
“Local businesses are the heartbeat of the Magic City, and they need our help during these challenging times,” said Vince Perez, a senior project manager at the Alabama Department of Commerce and one of the initiative’s founders. “This is a way that all of us can let local business owners and their employees know that we’re in their corner during this crisis.”
The way Local Distancing’s founders see it, buying online gift certificates represents the most practical way for loyal customers to support their favorite local businesses right now while remaining at their homes.
The website does not charge businesses to participate and will not receive any portion of the gift card purchases. Moreover, it works with gift card processing companies like Square and Gift Up! that provide money immediately to businesses, instead of when the certificates are redeemed.
Instagift, a Birmingham-based firm that provides electronic gift card services to local businesses, is supporting the effort by waiving monthly fees for new sign-ups and providing promotion on its social media.
Joining Perez in launching Local Distancing are Dylan Spencer, a web developer who built the site and is founder of a marketing firm bearing his name, and Trey Oliver, an attorney at the Bradley Arant law firm. The three are childhood friends who attended Auburn University.
“We all wish we weren’t in this situation, but here we are,“ Spencer said. “Thankfully, hard times have their way of bringing people together, and I believe this will somehow make Birmingham stronger. All we can do for now is stay home, stay healthy and take care of our city – especially the businesses and restaurants that make it special.”
Local Distancing may be the perfect substitute for an upcoming anniversary, birthday gift and more, he said.
“Order food and buy gift certificates, even if to give away as a ‘thank you’ to grocery store workers, restaurant workers, delivery folks, medical workers and the many others who are working so hard to keep us going,” Spencer urged.
Local Distancing is on Twitter and Instagram under @localdistancing.
These are challenging times. COVID-19 is here, and the most effective thing we can do to fight it is simple: stay home. Unfortunately, there is a downside to staying home – it will be catastrophic for our local businesses…
— Local Distancing (@localdistancing) March 17, 2020
This story originally appeared on the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Made in Alabama website.