By the time the magnitude of the residential devastation left behind by the Sept. 13 gas explosions was fully realized, small business owners in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover were just beginning to come to grips with their new reality.
More than 800 small businesses in the three communities were directly affected by the tragedy, and many of them suffered losses from which they have not yet fully recovered, including infrastructure and inventories. But it’s the exodus of customers – locals who were forced to change buying habits during the height of the crisis and never returned – that one year later is starting to trigger reports of unprecedented lost revenue.
Recent data shows that 30 percent of affected businesses have not yet returned to their pre-crisis operational status.
“If even 10-15 percent of customers are not there, the effects of that can be devastating to a small business,” said Stratton Lloyd, COO and vice president of community leadership at Essex County Community Foundation. ECCF is part of the Coalition, which includes EParaTodos, Mill Cities Community Investments, the Lawrence Partnership, MassHire, Mass Capital Growth Corp. and the municipalities of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover, that has been working to stabilize, revitalize and grow the Merrimack Valley business community since the explosions.
But this week, the Coalition announced a new phase of Rock the Register, a marketing campaign designed to help drive business back to the Merrimack Valley, that hopes to make a difference. This second phase will begin by putting 8,000 $30- Nifts – neighborhood gift cards – into the hands of affected residents and families, who will be able to use them at affected businesses in their communities.
Distribution of the cards will begin in the next few weeks.
“This is a unique way to infuse an additional several hundred thousand dollars into the local business community, which we expect will deliver hundreds of thousands more in return,” said Lloyd. “The campaign’s goal is to change buying behaviors and habits and get customers to reestablish long-term routines at their local stores.”
“It’s about residents and businesses supporting each other,” he added.
“It’s important to the community that we bounce back because our small business community is the lifeblood of who we are,” said Andover resident Ellen Keller.
You can watch Keller’s story and learn more about Rock the Register at www.rocktheregister.com.