Village merchants launch ‘Uplift YS’ fund
- Published: June 5, 2020
“There’s nothing to compare it to, being forced to shut down,” Winds Cafe owner Mary Kay Smith says in an online video, fighting back tears.
“We’ve gotten so much support,” she continues. “But for a restaurant like ours and a lot of businesses in town, carryout, gift certificates, online sales, it’s not enough. It’s just not enough.”
The tears come.
Having to shutter Asanda Imports for two months “completely eliminated our income,” says the gift store’s co-owner Molly Lunde.
“We need a little extra boost, and not just for the immediate circumstances but for the continual use of the downtown area,” Lunde adds.
Smith and Lunde provided these testimonials in a video promoting Uplift Yellow Springs, a new fundraising campaign to bring funds into small businesses that have lost revenue during the coronavirus pandemic.
Fearing the future of their shops, and the entire downtown, a group of merchants has banded together to launch the campaign in partnership with the Yellow Springs Community Foundation.
Jamie Sharp, owner of Yellow Springs Toy Company, came up with the idea and enlisted the support of other businesses in what became a collaborative and fast-moving effort.
“We’re hopeful this will channel some badly needed funds to our struggling businesses,” Sharp said last week.
Supporters can donate any amount to a beloved business, with 80% going to the business, 10% to an emergency relief fund at the Yellow Springs Development Corporation and 10% to a new “rainy day” fund for downtown stores at the community foundation. Donors are reminded that their donation is not tax-deductible.
Since the launch of Uplift Yellow Springs on Friday, May 29, more than $5,000 has been raised from 30 donors who hail from 19 ZIP codes. To donate, visit upliftyellowsprings.com.
The following businesses are currently participating: Asanda Imports, Basho Apparel, Blue Butterfly, Calypso Grill & Smokehouse/Sunrise Cafe, Current Cuisine, Dark Star Books, Epic Book Shop, Glen Garden Gifts, Greene Canteen, Heaven on Earth Emporium, House of AUM, Little Art Theatre, Morgan House Bed & Breakfast, Ohio Silver, Rose & Sal, Sam & Eddie’s Open Books, Tibet Bazaar, Toxic Beauty Records, Urban Handmade, Village Artisans, Winds Cafe, Yellow Springs Hardware, INK Collective and Yellow Springs Toy Company.
For Sharp, the need for funds now is acute, but it’s also important for villagers and shopkeepers to be thinking about the future.
“This is really important for us not just today, but on an ongoing basis because we’re developing a fund that could be helpful as other things come up,” she said.
Jeannamarie Cox, director of the community foundation, was the one to suggest the “rainy day” fund as part of the campaign. She doesn’t blame anyone for lack of foresight, however, as the pandemic was unprecedented.
“Because everything was good, no one was thinking of that rainy day,” Cox said. “But now, we have it.”
Recently, the foundation has focused its efforts on setting up endowments that can continue to provide support for an institution, rather than just one-time gifts. The new business “rainy day” fund will disperse funds annually.
“That sustainability is really important,” Cox said.
Yellow Springs Chamber of Commerce Director Karen Wintrow called the Uplift Yellow Springs campaign “a way to help businesses stabilize” after missing several months of income.
“Nobody is going to be able to make up the money that was lost during the closure period,” Wintrow explained. “A fund like this will help them keep their heads above water and just take care of those months of no business.”
Restaurants and bars were ordered closed in Ohio in mid-March, followed soon after by non-essential retail stores. Retail was permitted to reopen on May 12 with strict social distancing and sanitation measures in place, while restaurants got the green light over the subsequent week. Aside from a few, most retail shops in Yellow Springs have now reopened. Some local restaurants are beginning to open for dine-in service this week.
But whether customers and sales will return as usual is another question. Although downtown has seemed crowded, not as many visitors are patronizing shops, business owners have said. For those essential businesses that never closed, nearly all have seen declines in sales. And as Smith and other local restaurateurs have said in previous News interviews, carryout food service has not been enough to pay the bills.
Don Beard and Christine Monroe-Beard are going slow in reopening their three downtown businesses, Import House, Peach’s Grill and Ye Olde Trail Tavern, which together employ about 120 people. They worry the crowds won’t return for a while, which is why they are hesitant to ask their employees to come back from unemployment.
“What if there’s no tip dollars, if no one is coming out?” Beard said.
Such uncertainty is a consistent refrain of downtown business owners recently. And though Beard said the couple has some resources to lean on after 32 years in business, they worry about other, newer shops, and the integrity of the entire downtown.
“Right now, we need help. The merchants downtown need help.”