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City finds ways to support businesses during pandemic

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Local businesses hit by the effects of the pandemic are getting a helping hand in the form of a “Choose Rochester” radio campaign, organized by the city’s Department of Economic Development.

The radio advertisements encourage residents and visitors to support Rochester’s various independent shops and restaurants.

“Our businesses are doing their part to safely serve the community. I see the efforts business owners and employees have put into making their businesses CDC compliant so that our residents and guests feel comfortable, safe, and confident to patronize their stores and restaurants,” said Michael Scala, Director of Economic Development for the City of Rochester.

“We want to use our marketing abilities to remind people that these businesses still need their support, especially as we approach the holiday season.”

Scala adds that some small businesses have shifted their focus to curbside pickup and online sales.

“We’ve done a lot of online business since the start of the pandemic,” said Todd Radict, Skeletone Records. “I think it’s great that the city is working to support small businesses.”

Mayor Caroline McCarley also stressed the importance of helping local businesses during this time. “Small businesses are the backbone of our local economy. Unfortunately, many are suffering financially, especially our small retail stores and restaurants.”

“Our businesses have experienced significant hardship under COVID-19,” McCarley continued. “We honor their commitment and support their creative efforts to adapt to these challenging circumstances.”

For local restaurants hard-hit by the pandemic, survival for many meant moving operations outside. The City of Rochester acted quickly to permit outdoor dining areas. Previously, only a handful of Rochester businesses offered outdoor dining.

Now with falling temperatures, many restaurant owners worry about an uncertain future. Some are adapting by creatively incorporating new ways to attract customers.

“The city was very quick to react to the pandemic,” said Stacey Marchionni, Revolution Taproom and Grill. “It was tremendously helpful to have the expanded outdoor dining this year. Now that it’s getting colder, we’ll be using all of our available indoor space and properly distance our tables. We’re also adding wood-fired pizza and online ordering for more robust curbside and pickup options.

In the spring, the city launched a variety of initiatives to support businesses throughout the pandemic.

To support city eateries, City Manager Blaine Cox launched the “Good To Go” campaign and urged city staff to order lunch and dinner from a different Rochester restaurant every day.

“We encourage everyone to support their favorite Rochester restaurants and support our business community during these difficult times,” said Cox. “The simple act of ordering a meal can make a huge difference to restaurant owners in the city.”

To further assist the business community, the city’s Department for Economic Development started a micro-loan program allowing businesses to apply for up to $5,000 to be used for operating expenses. 13 loans were approved, totaling $59,500. The funds were available to help businesses’ immediate needs until state and federal funds became available.

City Council later voted to convert the loans into grants.

“Our independent shops and restaurants have been some of the hardest hit by the pandemic, said Mayor McCarley. “I’m happy with the advertisements on social media and radio. I also believe the micro-loan program, our quick response to outdoor dining, and the “Good to Go” campaign have all been positive for the business community.”

In September, the Mayor signed a proclamation declaring “now is the time to shop small” urging the community to support small businesses and independent merchants now and throughout the year.

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