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ABQ businesses logged on to survive and thrive

Albuquerque’s small businesses are evolving to be the fittest and most adaptable in the country amid the restrictions of the COVID-19 health pandemic. From broadening their business models to digitizing operations and creating more buying options for consumers, Albuquerque’s innovative small business community is showing the nation that Albuquerque is a solution-driven city of resilience, innovation and economic stability.

San Francisco-based mobile payment company Square recently recognized Albuquerque in its 2020 Rise of eCommerce Report. The study highlighted 50 cities that saw the largest increase in merchants adopting an online presence after the outbreak of COVID-19. Albuquerque led the pack, with eight times more merchants conducting e-commerce.

Put another way, “adoption of online sales was up 800%” during the study months of March and April, when compared to the first two months of the year, said David Rusenko, Square’s general manager of e-commerce. That number could be even greater since some shops moving online may not use Square and therefore were not included in the tally.

Albuquerque was followed by Durham, North Carolina, and Portland, Oregon, in the “top 50” ranking. Other ranked cities include Seattle, Kansas City and San Francisco.

Given Square’s global experience with retail and restaurant operations over the last decade, Rusenko said the company feels confident the research reflects more than just a sales metric.

“It represents resilience,” Rusenko said. “It shows that the Albuquerque business community exhibits significant nimbleness and resourcefulness when forced to adapt to new situations.

“When faced with the challenge (of the economic crisis), Albuquerque was the city where businesses stepped up to the challenge and did so at the highest rate, more so than any other city. People just didn’t roll over.”

Mayor Tim Keller and the city of Albuquerque Economic Development Department leapt to action to support small businesses in March as COVID-19 began to majorly impact the operations of small businesses. EDD immediately developed and deployed the Micro-Business Relief Program, providing a diverse array of 150 qualifying micro-businesses with working capital grants of $5,000 each. Also, utilizing $200,000 in funding provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the city has been making grants available to restaurants, breweries and food trucks to support the set-up and operation of outdoor dining options, and it waived permitting and inspection fees for building out patios.

Native- and woman-owned Bow and Arrow Brewing Co. resumed serving on its patio over the summer, but the Albuquerque brewery now also sells beer and merchandise online to supplement its more limited on-site business. President and CEO Shyla Sheppard said the brewery expanded to an e-commerce platform at the onset of COVID-19. The decision has helped to keep them afloat.

“COVID has been the impetus for us to get on it and make some decisions in a few key areas, leveraging technology,” Sheppard said, adding that Bow and Arrow is now getting orders from all over the country. “We saw returns on it almost immediately, so that was huge, just knowing people were willing to adopt this new way of transacting. … Technology has helped manage the (economic and health) risk.”

Retailers and restaurants that are using the pandemic as an opportunity to expand beyond their traditional business models are likely to come out of the crisis more competitive.

“Upgrading to an online presence doesn’t mean eliminating brick-and-mortar operations; it supplements a brick-and-mortar and gives customers more options and more flexibility at a time of uncertainty,” Rusenko said.

While the economic impact of the pandemic has been dire, both the city of Albuquerque and small businesses have responded with unprecedented swiftness and agility, investing in their future and ensuring Albuquerque’s Main Street economy remains open today and tomorrow.

Keller emphasizes the public can continue to help, too, by purchasing gift cards, buying merchandise online, dining at or ordering takeout from local businesses, sourcing groceries locally and tipping more than usual.

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