COVID-19

How One Rhode Island Chamber is Using Facebook Live to Help Main Street Survive

Westerly is rallying its community to support small businesses during COVID-19 

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If you live in Washington County you likely know Cahill and Co., that earthy clothier and novelty shop in downtown Westerly. You may have conversed with the owners Cameron and Anastasia, and you may even have gotten a personal tour. But in our COVID-19 world, it’s difficult to imagine a browsing experience.

This video was recorded on Facebook Live last Saturday, as part of a new initiative by the Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce. Cahill & Co. was one of many small businesses featured on the Chamber’s Facebook page, and more venues will be showcased this weekend. These longform videos give customers an intimate view of the stores they are not allowed to visit in person. Using phones, company websites, and credit cards, patrons can purchase the items they see – and help rescue South County entrepreneurs from financial hardship.

“The survival of businesses on Main Street USA will depend on the loyalty and patronage of the local communities,” says Lisa Konicki, president of the Chamber. “No government program can adequately rescue our small businesses, because the need far exceeds the government’s capacity to address. The Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce is again making a huge difference in our region by rallying the community together to support small businesses now when they need it most.”

The Chamber promotes local commerce in Westerly, which includes the villages of Misquamicut and Watch Hill, popular resort communities. Konicki reports an outpouring of support: All participating businesses turned a profit, and six of them earned more than $1000 in sales. This is a remarkable achievement in an era devoid of physical foot traffic, especially when Facebook Live is a free platform, available to almost anyone. Konicki credits the event’s success to the Chamber’s popularity on social media – the Facebook page has drawn more than 22,000 followers.

Konicki also traces the idea to old-fashioned infomercials.

“In thinking about the restrictions on retailers, it occurred to me that we could take our cues from the long standing shopping networks on TV and instead use our own large social media following in the same way to support local businesses,” she says. “This program creates a tangible way to generate revenue for our members, and responds to the challenges and changes with strength and solutions that keep our economy moving.”

Another two rounds of videos will be presented live this weekend Saturday, April 25 and Sunday, April 26 on the Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce Facebook page offering virtual tours of over a dozen different small businesses. In advance of Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, changing seasons, and graduations, tune into the sessions for potential gifts. Already booked? Each video is archived, so you can window-shop whenever you like.