I volunteer for the River Falls Baseball Council, which, for those of you that don't know, is the nonprofit organization running First National Bank of River Falls Field. One of my duties is to sell signage and advertising space at the ballpark, but this story isn't about me; it's about the small businesses I sell to.
We don't charge admission to any games, so the revenue from local businesses advertising on the outfield billboards or schedule booklets, etc., make up about 80% of our annual budget. They help keep the lights on, literally.
Every single time I walk into Johnnies Bar and ask owners Dave and Cheryl Dintemann to sponsor something at the ballpark, they say "yes."
A big reason our summertime community gathering place is there is because of small business owners just like them. From A to Z -- Anytime Fitness to Zahradka Accounting -- businesses step up to the plate. (My apologies to Byron Dopkins for leaving Guinn & Vinopal off of Zahradka Accounting, I needed a "Z" for literary effect.)
These businesses buy Girl Scout cookies. They sponsor community theater, rodeo clubs, elementary luaus, and every sports team from cradle to college.
So, when I see local businesses closed because of a virus, it makes me sick. It's not a business to me; it's a buddy.
We're not supposed to be touching our faces now, but here's how two local businesses touched some hearts.
Jeremy and Dana Cudd recently had their spring break trip to Punta Cana canceled. Many of you reading this may be saying to yourself, "Big deal, I'm stuck at home, too, and using coffee filters in place of toilet paper."
Well, what happened next is a big deal.
The Property Executives Realty agents took every penny of their vacation refund and bought $5,000 worth of $50 gift cards from local restaurants and had and gave them away via live Facebook drawings. It was a little cross-marketing that criss-crossed my heartstrings.
"We just wanted to spread some love,” Jeremy said. "If we all chip in a little bit, it's going to help a lot at the end of the day."
Local landlord Steve Trebus was inspired by the Cudds’ corona community contribution and bought restaurant gift cards for his tenants.
Dana Cudd said she was moved when one gift card winner said her family would pay it forward by writing letters to the elderly in assisted living facilities, "It’s fun to see how people are being creative and doing things they normally wouldn't do. Keeping peoples' spirits up is good for everybody."
The shirt off their back
River City Stitch makes sports-related clothing apparel. The company has been in business for 13 years at its Prescott location and three years in River Falls. Normally this time of year, manager Kallie Blanchard is cranking out shirts and hats for Cardinal and Wildcat spring sports.
"Everything is obviously on hold now," Blanchard said.
So, Blanchard and her graphic designer, Amanda Hines, were brainstorming ideas. Hines had the idea of "Businesses Supporting Businesses."
Currently, River City Stitch has 33 local business T-shirts available at rivercitystitch.com. If you want to support your favorite local business, go buy their T-shirt. Every time you do, River City Stitch will donate 50% of the proceeds to that business. For an extra $10, you can have "Businesses Supporting Businesses" printed on the back and those profits are being donated to the newly formed volunteer River Falls Virus Response Team, helping elderly and high-risk individuals.
"Any local business that is affected can participate if they're interested," Blanchard said, "just let us know."
In the first week of sales, almost 300 business T-shirts have been sold.
"I think this community is showing, again, how supportive and fantastic it is. Everybody really does take care of each other,” said Fox Den Used Books owner Heather Williams. "We're just so lucky to live in a community that really values education."
We're also very lucky to have the local business community we have. Sometimes we don't realize how good something is until it's gone.