From free parking spots downtown and internet benefit concerts to crowdsource fundraising, local residents and officials are trying to keep area restaurants and other businesses afloat even as people avoid personal contact in the wake of COVID-19.
The novel coronavirus that has led Gov. Ralph Northam to ban crowds of more than 10 people has hurt many businesses and restaurants, some of which have closed or shifted to take-out only.
That led the Charlottesville Office of Economic Development on Thursday to designate eight parking spots downtown as 15-minute grab-and-go parking to make it easier for customers to pick up ordered items, food and otherwise.
There are two spots on the Fourth Street Southeast crossing of the Downtown Mall. There is one spot each on First Street North, Second Street Southwest, Old Preston Avenue, Fifth Street Southeast, the 500 block of West Main Street and the Water Street parking lot at Water Street and Second Street Southwest.
“Obviously, COVID-19 has thrown a massive disruption into the local economy,” said Chris Engel, Charlottesville’s economic development director. “Without customers, businesses simply can’t survive. We were looking for any action that might help facilitate continued business activity.”
Engel said the idea is that the spots can bolster changes made by businesses in light of the virus.
“With many retail stores and restaurants pivoting to delivery and curbside pickup, we landed on designated ‘grab and go’ locations to encourage residents to support local businesses and also adhere to social distancing guidelines,” he said.
The 15-minute parking spots are marked with special signs and a logo featuring mall bricks swooping in an arrow designed by Downtown Mall business Rock Paper Scissors.
“[It] suggests the action of curbside pickup, but also us as a community moving forward through this, now and in the future,” said Heather McNulty Haynie, of Rock Paper Scissors. “We hope that the signage will help those businesses that are able to offer curbside pickup to get a little business in this challenging time.”
On March 13, Rock Paper Scissors temporarily closed its store in response to the virus and to encourage social distancing.
“As a member of the Downtown Business Association, the city asked if we would be willing to produce a graphic; it was a no-brainer for us to say yes,” Haynie said. “Everyone is struggling right now, so we are happy to play a small role to help out our neighbors and fellow businesses.”
Also on Thursday, local musician Michael Clem, a solo artist and bass player for Eddie From Ohio, held a benefit concert on Facebook with a virtual tip jar taking payments from PayPal and Venmo.
Clem said the donations will purchase gift vouchers from restaurants for people in need of meals.
“I’m in the same boat as a lot of musicians in that gigs are being canceled, and that means I’m losing income, but I know I’m not alone and you can only go so far in the self-pity department,” Clem said before performing his virtual concert.
“We have to help the people who hire us,” he said. “When we come out of isolation, we need to have a place to play.”
Clem said many performers are pivoting to the internet to keep their audience and using virtual tip jars. He said he hopes other will join him in creating online benefit concerts for local businesses.
“I’m just one troubadour and I can only do so much, but if we can get some more musicians to do this, we could have some real impact,” he said.
Debra Guy, guitarist and vocalist for Charlottesville band 7th Grade Girl Fight, said the band is giving the proceeds from Bandcamp.com sales of its new single “In Between” to the Charlottesville Restaurant Community Fund account on GoFundMe.
The account was opened March 15 to raise money to help restaurant employees who find themselves in financial straits due to reduced income or layoffs.
“A majority of our live music venues in town are also restaurants. They support us, often feed us, and provide a space for us to gather as a musical community of players, performers and fans,” Guy said. “I found the fundraiser for the Charlottesville Restaurant Community Fund. The timing of it coincided with our new single release and it just seemed like a no-brainer to take 100% of the proceeds and put it towards the fund.”
Guy said the band hopes their effort will encourage others to help.
“We’re just hoping to provide more incentive for people to donate,” Guy said. “We’ve gotten a good response so far. Many generous people are donating more than what is required to purchase the music, which is really inspiring.”
The crowdfunding organizer, Kaitlin Ellwood, said the money will go directly to employees to cover immediate needs. The organization is partnering with local restaurant owners to help identify those with the most need.