On the eve of holiday shopping season, which is typically a time most retailers feel certain of good and profitable times, Tahoe City merchant Jaclyn Woznicki confessed to me she was pretty fraught.

“I actually had a full-blown meltdown on Tuesday morning while getting ready to go to work,” said Woznicki, who owns Trunk Show, a store with locally made art, jewelry, and stuff.

Granted, she’s a unique case because to treat her MS she had a hematopoietic stem cell transplant treatment in January, which her doctors say is “less than ideal for a pandemic.” The stress of being out in the world with basically no immune system and navigating these uncertain times is great, but the Philly native says her natural immediate response to trauma and disaster is to “push and push and go hard.”

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SANITIZE ME: To be COVID-safe, Trunk Show created a bubble around the cash register, installed air scrubbers in its HVAC system, and keeps the front door wide open during business hours. Courtesy photo

To calm those meltdown moments, as she drives to work, Woznicki recounts all of the protocols she’s done to keep her store sanitized and she feels better. For her, there’s no choice.

“I still have to be in the public, because I need to save my business, because I love it,” she said. “I love what I do and I love my community and I’ve become a part of it as a result.”

We are all prone to — and excused from — having meltdowns during this novel coronavirus global crisis. Small local businesses especially have been susceptible to the pandemic tornado. Most had to close for nearly two months early on, then were forced to navigate dizzying new protocols, and recently, adhere to renewed state restrictions.

Yet luckily, the local businesses in Tahoe/Truckee have staunch advocates. The North Lake Tahoe Resort Association/Chamber of Commerce/CVB and the Truckee Chamber of Commerce have been working feverishly to develop campaigns that encourage people to think local, which is the theme of this quarterly section, so of course we had to highlight them.

“It’s definitely been a lot, what we’ve been working on, but it’s been really exciting too. I think what’s come out of this is everyone thinking outside the box a little bit and coming up with these new campaigns,” said Amber Burke, NLTRA director of marketing. “It’s been really rewarding to put together campaigns that we’re hoping really have a positive, direct impact on our business community right now.”

No-touch local shopping

In March, the North Lake chamber recognized that businesses had lost all foot traffic and the chance to even open their doors, but it also realized that people could still support local shops online.

The chamber put together a one-stop shop to buy gift cards, a perfect way to help keep businesses alive in that moment, in a no-touch manner. Any business was welcome to participate, and currently there are 128 listed. The chamber highlighted the portal on its website and pushed the message out on a local and national level.

Shoppers took notice. The gift cards page is the second most visited page after the home page at nltra.org, with nearly 40,000 page views since it launched.

“Some businesses didn’t have a gift card program in place, they didn’t know how to do that,” said Liz Bowling, NLTRA communication director. “We did create a DIY toolkit for businesses to be able to implement a program if they didn’t have one.”

Trunk Show was one of these businesses.

“The gift card program proved to be quite helpful,” Woznicki said. “We rushed to create a gift card button for the website. I didn’t have much of a website before, but I always wanted to, so I forced myself to take some photos, make some content, and get that up. I sold a lot of gift cards during shutdown. It helped a lot. I probably raised about $2,000 and that was huge for my tiny little store.”

EATING ON THE GO: The Takeout Tahoe Guide and the Truckee Dining Guide are both updated regularly to keep up with the pandemic’s changing rules. Courtesy image

You gotta eat

Everyone gets hungry so all the chambers had to do was show people the way.

“Restaurants are creatively adapting to ever-changing conditions,” said Lynn Saunders, president and CEO of the Truckee Chamber of Commerce. To help customers stay up to date, the Truckee chamber released its Truckee Dining Guide in mid-December, and North Tahoe published the Takeout Tahoe Guide at the end of October, outlining all of the dining options from Incline Village down to Homewood.

“We started working on [the takeout guide] in September and in anticipation of not knowing what restrictions would be in place,” Burke said. “We felt the one constant through all of this was takeout. It was intentional so it could be an evergreen program, running throughout fall, winter, spring, and even into summer.”

Lee Kresy, owner/operator of The Burrito Window and D’lish Catering in Kings Beach, confirms that the takeout guide has been bringing people to his doors.

“As people come in, they tell us they saw us in the guide,” Kresy said. “A lot of people are driven to it and say they are trying to patronize as much of the local businesses as they could, to keep everyone in business.”

Long haul

The Truckee Chamber is emphasizing that supporting local commerce is a way of life, and thus it launched the #ShopLocal365Truckee campaign in late November.

“We know that our money in the deep pockets of monster online retailers will do nothing for our community,” Saunders wrote in a November editorial. “We know that by shopping more consciously, we can each do our part — 365 days a year — to contribute to the sustainability of Truckee. When we all commit to this, the impact to our community will be massive.”

In the inaugural 365 program, shoppers have the chance to win gift cards by showing their local pride. Take a selfie with purchased products or services from local businesses and post it to social media with the hashtag #ShopLocal365Truckee, and you will be entered to win $100 in gift cards. The chamber will draw three names at the end of each month at least through June.

“We won’t be asking for donations — we will be purchasing these gift cards — now is the time to infuse a little cash into our businesses,” Saunders stated in a press release announcing the campaign.

“It will take time for this to gain momentum — but it is a long-term play and not a fleeting campaign … we’re in this for the long haul,” she told Moonshine Ink.

The North Shore managed a Shop & Win Contest over the holidays, with surprisingly great results given the shutdowns that were put into place in December. Seventy-seven teams signed up and turned in 609 challenge submissions in the form of text responses, photos, and videos.

“Considering the stay-at-home order was implemented a week after the launch of the campaign, I’m pleased with results,” Burke wrote in an email. “Participants were a mix of full-time residents, part-time residents, and both first-time and repeat visitors. All of the teams I spoke with said they had a blast with the challenges, and knowing their dollars were being spent locally felt impactful. Many said they were looking forward to playing again.”

A key point that every person interviewed shared is that thinking local is a long-term commitment and that every little bit helps.   

“Basically, what we’re saying is that there are still options to shop local whether you do that in person or online,” Bowling affirmed. “We always say shop small — do it right because your impact and your dollars make a huge difference.”

At the time we spoke in December, Woznicki shared that Trunk Show sales were down 40% for the year and that she and fellow businesses were doing “300% of work for 40% income.” But she’s hopeful. In fact, she even recently renewed her lease for five more years.

“Everybody likes to blame everything on 2020,” Woznicki said. “But the past two years have been a gift, proving to me that I’m stronger than I realized.”

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