Taking a grassroots approach to solving economic shortfalls during Covid-19’s lockdown in April, Midcoast’s community—and those who love Maine from afar—have come together to pledge financial support to the restaurants, nonprofit organizations, inns, small and businesses that keep the local economy’s gears humming.
An idea that came out of a conversation between software developer and cofounder of the Steel House in Rockland, Nathan Davis and his friend, Paul Coster, on how to buy credit from businesses to keep them afloat has turned into a momentum. Opportunity Knox, an online platform, took shape in the first week of April.
“We just wanted to put all of the businesses who are offering gift certificates and those that need donations all in one place,” said Davis. “People make a purchase by PayPal and it’s a ‘one-stop shopping’ option to support a number of businesses with one payment.”
At the time of this article, nearly 70 essential and nonessential businesses have signed up under the umbrella of Opportunity Knox, including 18 nonprofits and 12 restaurants. There is no cost involved in signing up. In nearly three weeks, the website has generated $5,750 in pre-paid gift certificates and donations via nearly 80 transactions.
The building and marketing of the website have been entirely on a volunteer basis.
How Opportunity Knox Works
Click purple Search Options Box
By Location, or Business, choose a business and read what they need the most help with.
Decide how much you want to pay in the box above. For example, say you want to spend $100. Use the sliders under each organization’s profile to reach $50.
Each contribution ends up being either a gift certificate you can redeem later or a donation; you will receive a receipt for each to verify your purchase.
Vanessa Santarelli, owner of Your Maine Concierge, is handling the public outreach side of the website.
“We’re thrilled that the community has been incredibly supportive,” she said. “Certainly there’s tons of local and statewide support, but we also know from the numbers that visitors from away who love our restaurants, galleries, shops and nonprofits have also contributed to help to support the businesses they want to see open when they can come back.”
The website is encouraging organizations and businesses to self-add, along with a writeup, explaining what the business is going through and where it needs the most support.
“When you start to read what each business needs, it’s not just this generic description, it’s how they are handling the Covid-19 crisis from their perspective,” said Davis.
The community effort of Opportunity Knox has come at a time when many small businesses in Maine have felt hung out to dry. The initial federal $350 billion PayCheck Protection Program (PPP) was supposed to help small employers harmed by the Covid-19 crisis, but ran out of money in two weeks.
Maine has 142,000 small businesses. Of those, Portland Press Herald reported that nearly 17,000 Maine businesses were able to secure loans, but many more felt they were passed over in favor of larger corporations and chain restaurants who took advantage of the rules of the loan.
Even as the White House and Congress work to pass another bailout package, local businesses can’t afford to wait and hope for the best.
“We’ve gotten lots of positive feedback from the businesses who’ve signed up when they get the notice someone has bought a gift certificate or donated for future use,” said Santarelli. “Given the fact that the federal programs, while they were well-intended, were not necessarily having immediate benefits that are necessary to keep these businesses afloat. Local efforts like this are critical and we’re going to do everything we can to play a small but important role in supporting each other.”
Santarelli said that each business on the website specifies in its description whether the pledge is a donation or buys a gift certificate to the business’s goods or services.
“You can buy now, reap the benefits later,” she said. “You’ll get a receipt of your payment and the business owner will as well, so you both have an electronic copy of payment. The businesses will connect with the purchaser on further details. It’s understood by the businesses participating that once they’re open again those receipts will be able to redeemed.”
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Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org