Nearly 100,000 businesses have permanently closed their doors due to the pandemic, according to Yelp's Local Economic Impact Report. That number doesn't represent the number of families affected by the loss. That number does not portray the impact communities have felt from the losses. And that number certainly doesn't even come close to representing the hours that went into building these businesses.
Sadly, the pandemic hasn't disappeared. As it has exploded in the West and East Coast, to the South, and now the Midwest, businesses all over the United States have felt, are feeling, or will feel the effects of the virus. Stark Screen Printing is one of those screen printers that have stayed afloat, but it's thanks to her hard work and her supportive community.
When the first wave of the virus rippled throughout the United States in March, Stark Screen Printing wasn't sure what was going to happen. Owners Daniela Murphy and Travis Murphy planned to shut down and unplug all the equipment to keep the utility bill low and hoped they had enough to pay rent during the wait.
“We just really hoped that it wouldn’t take that long,” Daniela said.
Daniela and her husband Travis did not have to keep their doors shut for long. The essential businesses turned to them to print their shirts, even if they didn’t need any. Orders kept pouring in, like the 1,000-shirt order from a local grocery store.
“We’re in a tight-knit community,” Daniela said. “Everyone takes care of everyone here.”
Not only does the community go above and beyond to take care of each other, Daniela believes the close relationships she has built with each of her customers has helped her pull through these tough times. The relationships they built with their customers pulled through during the tough times.
“I know they did not need shirts, but since they were doing okay, they made sure that I was doing okay because we all wanted to come out of it together,” Daniela said.
Daniela has strong relationships with her customers because she makes it more than a business transaction. She frequently checks in on her customers, whether it's calling them to see how they're doing or sending them a quick email wishing them a good weekend.
“I always take time out of my day to make sure I’m contacting my customers,” Daniela said.
No, not everyone places an order after a conversations, but that isn't the point.
“I’m trying to make sure that I build that relationship and keep that relationship with them,” Daniela said.
LEARN MORE ABOUT STARK'S RECIPE FOR SUCCESS
Building those relationships proved to be fruitful with the outpour of orders Daniela received throughout the pandemic. Grateful for the chance to keep running her business, Daniela and Travis thought about the businesses that did not have the option to stay open.
“We immediately thought about the less fortunate businesses,” Daniela said. “We wanted to help out businesses like the restaurants, the bars, the coffee shops. I was a bartender before, so I knew that they were struggling with trying to figure out what’s next and how to keep their businesses open.”
Daniela and Travis grappled with how exactly they could help out these businesses. They thought about raising money for them, but worried about any trust issues arising from it. The two also considered inquiring someone else to be in charge of handling the money.
“We went back and forth for a while about the best way to help them,” Daniela said.
One of the businesses Stark printed the Support Local shirts for was Sasser's Auto Paint.
While brainstorming ideas, Daniela saw the free Support Local vector download that Golden Press Studio created.
“A light bulb went off,” Daniela said. “We said, ‘Why don’t we print hundreds of shirts with that design on them and add a little hashtag of our cities?'”
Instead of selling the shirts and collecting the money themselves, Daniela and Travis decided to give the small businesses a stack of shirts for free and they could sell the shirts themselves.
“We wanted nothing out of it,” Daniela said.
They didn’t put Stark Screen Printing on the shirts. They did not want any sort of cash to flow back to them. The shop just wanted to help out these businesses, nothing more.
“They were so thankful,” Daniela said. “They sold them and kept the money. They wrote us letters, it was really amazing.”
At the beginning, Stark Screen Printing printed about 100-200 shirts for local businesses. Then they’d heard about another business struggling, so they’d print more shirts. Daniela has now printed more than 400 shirts for 15 businesses.
“The more people were supporting us, the more we were able to print more shirts and help the others,” Daniela said.
Daniela would walk into businesses to share what she was doing. Many managers broke down in tears.
Daniela wrote on Stark's Instagram: "When you go out and all the bartenders are wearing your shirts."
“They didn’t understand why someone would come in and give something without an ulterior motive,” Daniela said.
They haven’t stopped printing Support Local shirts. At the front of their store, they have the shirts rolled up and tied with a nice ribbon. Anyone who enters the store gets a free Support Local shirt. Some come in solely for the shirt, and Daniela hands it to them without asking for a penny.
“If you give first, it always comes back,” Daniela said. “You have to be a little selfless.”
Supporting local means many things for a variety of people. For the close, supportive community of Phenix City, Alabama, and Columbus, Georgia, supporting local businesses means you're helping keep a family afloat.
“When you go to a small business, you’re helping a family,” Daniela said. “You’re putting dinner on their table. You’re helping a kid get more Christmas presents. You’re actually supporting a family that’s putting themselves out there and is doing something for the community to make it a better place.”
Continue making your community a better place. Check in with your customers and other local businesses. If anything, it may feel nice to be make a closer connection with others during a time when we're six feet apart.