The decade-old marketing slogan Shop Local has taken on a new urgency for businesses as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic stretches into a seventh month.
The American Express Shop Local campaign is usually promoted during the weeks before Thanksgiving to kick off Black Friday and the holiday shopping season.
But town businesses say they are relying on residents to support their shops and restaurants now, and year ‘round, during these unprecedented times that have no end in sight.
Jim and Rosalyn Hamilton’s Miami Lakes Sports Shop has been a presence on Main Street for 35 years and survived the Great Recession during 2007 – 2009.
Jim Hamilton says they are conservative with how they run the company, which supplies sports team uniforms to parents and 10 major high schools, a few middle and elementary schools and cheerleading programs at 10 county parks.
“This is worse for us than the recession, because there were no sports allowed for the last seven months,” Jim Hamilton said.
Shoppers cautious about protecting their health who stayed away have also impacted sales, he said.
But spending dollars close to home can have positive effects on town commerce.
Customers who help a business stay afloat enable an owner to pay a home mortgage.
And that local business can in turn employ a neighbor or a teenager.
“These small businesses give back to our town, our schools, our athletic programs and many other functions through donations and contributions,” said Eddie Blanco, a real estate broker who chairs the town’s Economic Development Committee.
The town says there are 1,700 enterprises that pay business taxes in Miami Lakes; at least 60 of those are restaurants.
Fred Senra, a partner at Miami Lakes AutoMall, said he relies on locals and customers from neighboring communities for about 65% of the dealership’s business, which is doing well despite the pandemic and has made new hires.
“If [local customers] went away, that would absolutely impact us greatly,” Senra said.
Senra says he and his wife Maggie shop locally, “almost 100%.”
His wife buys most of her clothes at stores in town and the couple chooses baubles at Snow’s Jewelry on Main Street.
"And we go to all the restaurants in Miami Lakes and the surrounding areas, though now we do take-out for the most part,” said Senra, who is also vice president of the Miami Lakes Chamber of Commerce.
An American Express 2018 study found that for every dollar spent at a small business, approximately 67 cents remains in the local community.
And every dollar spent creates an additional 50 cents of commerce-related activities such as buying business supplies.
For every 10 jobs at a local business, seven more are supported in the community, the company found.
“The money stays local,” Blanco said. “When that business owner grows, he takes his earnings and buys a bigger home, and hires a local handyman, and that local handyman can buy tools at the local hardware store and that local sandwich shop.”
Blanco said the Shop Local campaign should focus on mom and pop businesses rather than big box or national chain stores.
“It is more than Shop Local, it’s Shop Small, too,” Blanco said. “Shopping at businesses that are owned by shareholders takes money away from our local economy.”
Though several storefronts have emptied in some of the town’s six shopping centers and along Main Street, other entrepreneurs are taking their places.
Five merchants (a boutique, barbershop, nail salon and two restaurants) have signed leases along Main Street and expect to be open by the end of the year.
At Windmill Gate, a hair salon and a coffee shop are readying their storefronts.
A barbecue restaurant called Smoke Box from the owners of NQC Craft Beer & Grub restaurant is planned for Park Centre Shops.
Other signs of life: On a recent Friday afternoon in the new 6600 Main apartment complex, barber Rey Aguilar in newly opened The Spot Barbershop was giving a “steam shave” to a client.
At the Cypress Village Shopping Center, Sushi Sake Miami Lakes welcomed diners on Sept. 3rd, despite restrictions by Miami-Dade County on the number of people that restaurants may serve.
Two additional restaurants – Cruzeiro Brazilian Steakhouse, from the owners of neighboring restaurant Dr. Limon Ceviche Bar, and Diced, which offers fast casual wraps, bowls and salads -- are preparing to open in that shopping plaza.
Rufino Paulino, president and co-owner of the family business that runs Dr. Limon restaurants, said of the town, “The Miami Lakes community I think is the best.”
Why expand during a pandemic? His team is also behind the nail salon slated for Main Street, to be called Mirage.
The company sold a business on Coral Way in Miami and, Paulino said, “I thought Miami Lakes needed a Brazilian steakhouse, something fancy. And I went with my gut feeling. I think we’re going to have a lot of support from Miami Lakers. They’re taking pictures of it and it’s not open yet. They peek.”
He said he uses local suppliers “as much as we can,” including General Hotel & Restaurant Supply and Barbarita’s Liquors II.
“We believe in the town,” Paulino said. “This town is awesome. I think it’s the best town I’ve seen so far, the energy, the people, the je ne sais quoi.”
To succeed, new enterprises that are joining the established ones will all rely on support from their neighbors, who will also benefit.
“If a local business is doing well, it increases property values in the community,” said Brian Van Hook, regional director of the Florida Small Business Development Center at Florida International University’s College of Business.
“Small businesses are key for the supply chain,” Van Hook said. “If you lose those businesses it will impact the larger suppliers.”
Since March, the center has helped 1,600 firms in Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties obtain $36 million in COVID-19 loans and payroll funds; it normally has 1,100 clients per year, Van Hook said.
Hamilton said the sports shop participated in the federal Payroll Protection Program, which allowed the couple to pay their staff of eight.
He’s hoping the government will provide another round of payroll assistance, or that youth sports resume.
If customers return and society becomes healthier, his bottom line will improve, too.
“It’s so important to get [local] support,” Hamilton said. “Otherwise we would not stay in business.”