Longtime Mountain View market owner offers six ideas for how to help small businesses during COVID-19

Guest opinion by Steve Rasmussen

Steve Rasmussen, owner of the Milk Pail Market, poses for a portrait in the grocery store with his daughters Erika and Kai on June 4, 2019. (Photo by Magali Gauthier)

Small businesses add pizzazz and vibrancy to our lives. Keeping restaurants, nail salons, day care centers and other small local businesses alive through these difficult times does much more than help the business owner. These owners don’t only support themselves, but they are also responsible for the livelihoods of all of their staff.

For most of my adult life, I was part of The Milk Pail Market in Mountain View, a very popular, community centric business. I have a very real passion for the importance of small, vibrant mom-and-pop businesses in our communities, and I have felt that the employee-employer relationship is like a dance — one cannot exist without the other, and neither will exist without the music from the public.

Milk Pail Market owner Steve Rasmussen talks to longtime customer Leane Reelfs about the variety of citrus he sells on March 25, 2014. (Photo by Michelle Le)

Council member Alison Hicks from Mountain View recently told me that if these small businesses close, then corporate offices and chain restaurants will likely take their place. The little guy simply won’t be able to make it anymore.

Our local businesses — mom-and-pop businesses, family businesses, vibrant and OPEN businesses — are vital to our community. I think we want to do everything possible to ensure that these businesses we value reopen when life settles down.

Here are six ideas for tangible things that you can do right now to help our small businesses and their employees:

  1. During this crisis, if you are a landlord, consider lowering the rent to any business that has been highly affected by the shelter in place order. It wasn’t the tenant’s fault that this is happening, and it is likely that they don’t have deep pockets to weather this storm. A few weeks ago, I had the chance to chat and share my concerns with John McNellis, a local Palo Alto landlord and friend who recently wrote a column about this issue, in which he stated, “We are forgiving all rent for the month of April for our mom and pop tenants that have been forced to close.” I continue to promote John’s essay with the hope that if local landlords saw it they would follow suit.
  2. Some cities are creating “small business relief funds,” including Mountain View, San Francisco, Portland and the counties of Santa Clara and San Mateo. You can contribute to such a fund to help stabilize local small businesses. These funds often issue micro loans that will be paid back in time.
  3. Give someone a hand. If you have the capacity, consider offering an interest-free loan to those in your own network having a difficult time. Even $100 can change somebody’s life right now. Alternatively, pay it forward! Give a no-strings-attached sum of money to someone in need.
  4. Eat out! Well, takeout! Most restaurants have razor thin profit margins on a good day; right now, many restaurants are in dire straits. If you have the ability, order a to-go dinner tonight from your local restaurant. If you want to eat there when the shelter-in-place order is behind us, it’s important to support them now.
  5. If you are fortunate enough to not really “need” the coronavirus stimulus check that the federal government is distributing to many taxpayers, this might be a way for you to start your own “relief fund” for others that are more in need.
  6. Lastly, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and the Los Altos Community Foundation are wonderful organizations that oversee “donor advised funds” and private gifts that are used for philanthropic contributions to worthy nonprofit groups, both local and global. The Silicon Valley Community Foundation oversees $13.5 billion in donor-advised funds. These monies often come from wealthy local individuals, families and corporations. It would be quite an act of generosity if people reading this were to donate some small amount they can afford to one of these foundations for the benefit of helping our local small businesses that have been hurt by this horrific Covid-19 attack on our communities.

In my 45 years of owning a business, I have been rewarded with many good friends, some serious luck, a few rough times and a bit of good fortune. At this stage of my life, I want to give back to the vibrant community that gave my little store life. I invite those of you who have had a similar life’s path to share your experience, your wisdom and maybe some of your financial success for local small businesses that now need your support.

Steve Rasmussen

(Image courtesy of Steve Rasmussen)

P.S: Please feel free to email me to discuss additional ways to help small businesses.

Steve Rasmussen owned the Milk Pail Market in Mountain View for 45 years. He can be emailed at [email protected]

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