With the COVID-19 situation all but halting the Icelandic economy, many small independent businesses are in serious jeopardy. In order to help at-risk institutions, Anna Worthington De Matos, the founder of the Reykjavík Tool Library, created the website Smá Hjálp, shining a light on local businesses endangered by the crisis.
The Smá Hjálp platform
“The idea for Smá Hjálp came about when friends with small independent businesses started to voice their concerns about what would happen if we were made to close down or reduce services,” she explains. “The point of the website is to give a platform for those businesses to communicate directly to the customer how they can be helped and supported during this time.”
The coronavirus pandemic, with subsequent travel restrictions and gathering bans, has already profoundly changed many local businesses, particularly those that thrive on person-to-person contact, Anna emphasises. “What we do at the Tool Library is a circular economy and that means we need to share things to stay alive,” she says. “This is not a really good time for ‘sharing’ unless we are talking about kindness.”
“People are scared and worried about their financial situations over the next couple of months and that will affect their ability to also support us local small businesses,” she explains. “It will be a matter of them needing to save money vs. wanting to help us. These are very difficult times indeed.”
Businesses are doing their part though, by adapting their services to better cater to customers in the current climate. “Restaurants and bars are offering delivery and take-away, which is a great option, but this still means they will have less staff on,” Anna explains. “Others are selling gift cards that can be used at a different date in the near future.” She names vegan cake company Baunin as a good example of this.
Some, particularly non-profits, have opened up donation channels. For instance, Kattakaffihúsið is accepting donations to take care of the cats. Others are thinking more out-of-the-box. “We at the Tool Library are trying to figure out a system where people can possibly pre-book their borrowings,” Anna explains. “We are working on it.”
People over business
Aside from do-it-together solutions, what can the government actually do to protect small businesses? “Honestly, at this point I am not sure,” Anna answers. “Tax breaks might be a good idea for the time being, but I am at a loss. The government should prioritise people over business, but I also think they should prioritise small businesses over for-profit corporations that are going to be fine.”
Most of all, Anna believes that the instant catastrophic effect COVID-19 had on the Icelandic economy should be a wake up call. “If there was ever a time to start making significant systemic changes to the economy, this is it,” she says.
Current difficulties are sure to pass, but in the meantime, all the average person can do is try to prop each other up, which is the overall goal of Smá Hljálp. “If you like a place, like what they stand for and want to help them keep going, share their posts, pass on their information, like, comment and, if you can afford to, buy something,” Anna concludes. “These are tough times for us all and we are all in this together, so we will only get through it by sticking together and supporting each other.”
Check out Smá Hjálp here.
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