Downtown Colorado Springs

There’s no doubt that local businesses, landlords and families are straining under the ongoing pandemic. It’s unlikely help from the federal government will come anytime soon — and certainly not in enough time to save many businesses, those on unemployment and those families struggling with child care, homeschooling and work at the same time. 

But the Colorado General Assembly isn’t waiting any longer for federal assistance. Instead, it is meeting in a rare special session next week (Nov. 30) to decide how it can help the state recover even as the pandemic numbers grow every day. 

And help cannot come soon enough. Unemployment in the state is rising — up 22 percent last week from the week before — following an upward trajectory since mid-October. Industries hit the hardest: dining, accommodation and construction. 

Add that to the burden created by school and daycare closures and increasing COVID illnesses, and it’s reasonable to wish Gov. Jared Polis had acted sooner regarding state aid. But he is doing something now, which is more than lame duck President Donald Trump’s administration seems to be capable of, as the president plays golf and ignores a global summit on the pandemic.

The plan set by Colorado’s governor includes small business relief in the form of delayed tax payments; child care support in the form of financial aid; housing aid and direct rental assistance; increased broadband access; food insecurity solutions, utilities assistance and funding to help health care agencies respond to the ongoing crisis. 

The total cost of the package is around $220 million. It’s hard to say what will actually come out of the special session — just before the regular General Assembly session starts on Jan. 13. It’s also hard to know where the money will come from, given the state’s tight budget. 

Let’s face it, this aid package probably isn’t enough to save a multitude of businesses currently operating on the edge. 

While delayed taxes, child care assistance and help with utilities will benefit many Coloradans, those of us with secure jobs can do more. We can pledge this year to shop locally. Eat at the restaurants owned by neighbors and friends; shop for holiday gifts at local boutiques, retailers and art galleries.  

Here’s a fact: Local retailers return three times as much money to the local economy as big box stores; local restaurants return twice as much money to the local economy as chains.

Imagine the dismay of local restaurants when they watched residents line up for hours at In-N-Out Burger, a national chain out of California. Imagine if those hundreds of people opted instead for takeout at a local eatery. Imagine retailers’ joy if those hundreds of people opted to shop at a small business for the holidays, instead of heading straight for the big box stores. 

Small businesses are the lifeblood of our community. They support nonprofits; they hire local people as staff; they pay taxes in Colorado; they shape and define a city. Big box stores are everywhere; fast food chains are ubiquitous. It’s time to repay locally owned businesses for their community support. Shop local.