KENNETT SQUARE—In this unprecedented economic crisis, we can draw strength from the past and take action now to start rebuilding Kennett Square. One of the cornerstones of that recovery will be the retention of the many diverse small businesses in our community.
“All businesses are fragile in different ways,” says Historic Kennett Square Executive Director Bo Wright. “But this crisis is particularly difficult for Main Street, consumer-facing small businesses. They’re uniquely vulnerable right now because there’s been an immediate and nearly complete cessation of demand. Though the revenue loss is temporary in this case, every day that goes by is bringing many businesses one day closer to closing permanently.”
According to the Institute for Business and Home Safety and FEMA, between 25 and 40 percent of businesses don’t reopen following a major disaster. As we saw after the Great Recession, it takes years to build new businesses after a crash. And the relationships local entrepreneurs build with employees and customers cannot be replaced quickly, if at all.
The scope of the crisis nationally—with more than half of Americans working at or owning one of the country’s 30 million small businesses—is overwhelming. Staying safe in this crisis means being able to afford to stay at home, buy groceries, and access healthcare. For countless citizens across the country and right here in Kennett Square, the fear of losing these basic necessities is a daily reality. It’s become clear in recent days that federal disaster relief, while essential and helpful, is not going to be enough. Some of that support is simply going to have to come from local municipalities and residents fighting to preserve the place we love.
Kennett Square’s small businesses are not only the lifeblood of our local economy; they’re also at the heart of what makes Kennett Square a great place to work, live, and play. Wright emphasizes that operating with a few weeks’ worth of cash buffer to carry them through an emergency does not mean that small businesses are not good businesses. In fact, he says, what we have—and are in danger of losing—here in Kennett Square is a strong foundation for community resiliency that will carry us through to the other side of the crisis brought on by COVID-19 and help the local economy rebound more quickly. Not only because these businesses are the heart of our community, but also because our main street businesses are our communities’ financial backbone—something Wright learned about in hundreds of cities through his work with Strong Towns.
Although many residents and visitors might articulate what they love about Kennett Square in terms of its charm and character, what they’re identifying is the human scale of a strong local economy. Residents are justifiably proud of the fact that the Borough hasn’t been taken over by national chains, superstores, or massive parking lots.
The kind of economic flourishing Kennett Square has enjoyed over the last few decades arguably began with Michael Walker’s decision to locate the headquarters of his company, Genesis HealthCare, in the heart of the town where he was living and raising his family.
The arrival of the now nationally renowned Talula’s Table and other new businesses complemented and elevated longtime existing small businesses and attracted still more creative entrepreneurs. Anyone who has seen Kennett Square take shape over these years can testify to the truth of this economic principle in action. The revitalization of neighborhoods like the Birch Street area and Cannery Row is a natural and sustainable result of the growth on and around State Street.
“As we look towards rebuilding after this crisis is over, it’s critical to support these small businesses—not only to help the owners and their employees and their families, although that’s incredibly important, but also for the economy of our town and region,” Wright says.
The Kennett Square Revitalization Task Force, formed in 1986 by Michael Walker, was the first iteration of Historic Kennett Square (HKS), the nonprofit tasked with building community and shepherding smart growth in Kennett. “Based on the success of these revitalization efforts over recent years, the staff and Board of Historic Kennett Square were working on a new vision statement for the organization just before the COVID-19 crisis hit,” Wright says. “We focused on how we want to see Kennett Square fulfill its potential to be an inclusive, beautiful, and evolving community. To help accomplish that, HKS provides expertise in community development and thought leadership and hosts events to build community. The goal is that Kennett Square will become a beautiful community where everyone can belong and prosper. Just a few short weeks later, how we implement that vision has changed dramatically, but the core truth is as enduring and resilient as the town itself.”
“We’ve been amazed and inspired by the creativity and perseverance of small business owners over these past few weeks,” says Wright. “Many of them have made dramatic changes to how they operate so they can continue to serve customers in this new reality. From devising new ways to hand take-out meals and products to customers safely, getting online shopping up and running, to offering free local delivery, they’re tenacious and innovative. They’re also fighting to survive. We encourage everyone who is able to do so to invest in them, and in the future of the beautiful town we love, by supporting them now.”
Love where you live is more than a slogan or a feeling, it’s a call to action, and Kennett Square residents have demonstrated amazing generosity and creativity in supporting others through this crisis. Residents can support local businesses by buying take-out meals and shopping local businesses online. Buying gift cards to use later also helps businesses with the cash flow they need right now. These can be purchased through KennettStrong.com or through the businesses’ own websites. Find a continuously updated page of ways you can support local safely right now at https://historickennettsquare.com/supporting-our-local-business-community/