The Frisco Downtown Merchants Association has established a daily digital meeting for businesses throughout The Rail District to talk through issues and share resources when possible.
“We've all kind of come together to pool our resources to figure out how we can stay in business,” Artistic Organics co-owner Ed Mahoney said. “Quite a few of us, we pay our mortgages with the money that we make in our stores. COVID-19 has really impacted each one of our businesses, and if we can't stay open for business, some of us have to make really hard decisions.”
CrossFit Löwe co-owner Cari Baer hosts the daily meetings through the video conferencing app Zoom. Like most small business owners, she said the strength and conditioning facility she and her husband own has been affected “pretty hard” by the closure of non-essential businesses. She said she thought a support line would be beneficial.
“There's 80 to 100 small businesses that we've invited to that daily ‘support group,’ if you will,” Baer said. “We polled all of our restaurants and created a quick survey. We have been pushing out what services are still available at what hours for each of those restaurants via social media—Instagram, Facebook.”
For businesses that are not part of the food chain, Baer said the group is focusing on what they can do from home.
“At-home kits are some things that some of our shops are doing, like our craft shops,” Baer said, noting Write On! Creative Writing Center is also doing live workshops. “We just really try to push things that they are doing and capture that on those calls.”
Mahoney explained the effort started after the owner of Sweets on a Stick said she could not find flour, a vital ingredient for her business, at the grocery store. Mahoney and a couple other business owners went looking and were able to get more than 40 pounds of flour to keep her shop going.
“That's kind of how this whole thing evolved with the downtown merchants,” Mahoney said.
The Artistic Organics co-owner said he then started seeing positive signs with messages such as “Frisco Strong” and “Keep The Faith” showing up in business windows. He liked the idea and began spreading signs to other businesses so when people drive through, they “know we're not only trying to promote positive energy but also that we're open for business.”
Mahoney said neighborhood restaurant eight|11 Place has now set up a single supply chain for the downtown merchants to get ingredients or supplies through its wholesalers. Downtown merchants are also trying to share resources for home delivery and curbside pickup services when applicable, he said.
As the coronavirus concerns started growing, Mahoney explained, many of the downtown merchants started talking about disinfecting and cleaning techniques with The Cleaning Force.
“We hosted a downtown merchants education session on cleaning and how to do that,” Mahoney said. “And what they did was they helped educate [us on] the difference between cleaning and disinfecting.”
The group even created the #RailDistrictClean slogan to let customers know about their cleaning efforts. The Cleaning Force is supplying downtown merchants with the same hospital-grade disinfectant it is giving to Collin County first responders through a private Facebook group.
“You’ve got to clean before you can disinfect,” owner Jonathan Cromwell-Broker said. “I was communicating that and trying to help everybody figure out how to talk to their staff.”
Baer said the Frisco Chamber of Commerce has also been very supportive of the group and its efforts.
“They join that call every single day to make sure they understand the impacts on our businesses as well as give us updates and making sure that our businesses have the resources they need,” Baer said.
Executive assistant Jenn Van Dahm represents the chamber during the calls and then updates the chamber staff.
“The Rail District merchants are playing a crucial part in keeping the downtown community unified,” Van Dahm said via email. “Their support of one another, through daily collaboration, has been the driving force to maneuver through this difficult time.”
Chamber President/CEO Tony Felker called the downtown group a “great example” of the partnerships that exist in Frisco.
“Over the past years, this group of merchants has collectively brought more awareness to businesses in historic downtown, and now with this crisis has taken it to a new level to support each other and come up with creative solutions during these unprecedented times,” Felker said via email.
Baer said the group is sharing those creative solutions through social media platforms such as the Frisco Rail District Merchants Facebook and Instagram pages.
“We've got a small team for just social media support so that we can share all of the Rail District services that are there to offer,” Baer said.
While the Rail District support call is held each week day, Baer said the group also has three or four members who volunteer their cell phone numbers for weekend needs.
“We have folks that have been volunteering to be kind of on call,” she said. “That way Saturdays and Sundays can be somewhat of a balance for personal life and things of that sort.”