In recent days, the Wiregrass area has seen rapid changes that have had a profound effect on day-to-day routines. Schools are closed, and children are home when they usually aren’t. Many workers are either idled or sent home to work remotely. The governor ordered restaurant dining rooms closed and capped the number of people who can gather at one time. The usual flow of traffic around Dothan is significantly reduced, suggesting that many residents are heeding health officials’ plea for people to stay home to help reduce the rate of infection of COVID-19.

We’re only a week or so into this dramatic disruption, and people have more questions than answers, wondering how the school term will be handled, what activities may or may not be rescheduled, how badly will their retirement fund and other investments dip, whether hospitals are equipped to handle an influx of COVID-19 patients, and what might fill the void left by the cancellation of March Madness.

These are things we cannot know at this point. However, there is something we do know: A prolonged suppression of daily operations for small businesses will be devastating financially, and may well cause some to close permanently. This will have a drastic effect on the employees of those businesses as well, particularly those in the service industry.

There is something we can do about it. Many independent businesses and restaurants have adapted their operations to stay viable. Restaurants can’t seat you, but many offer takeout, curbside or delivery. Making an effort to patronize these businesses will help. Ask your favorite locally owned business or restaurant if it sells gift cards, and buy some for yourself or your friends and family. That gives the business some cash flow during these lean times, with an obligation that can be fulfilled later.

These small businesses, owned and operated by our friends and neighbors, have one goal — to serve the people of our community. They’re there for us in good times; we must support them now so they can serve continue to serve us in the future. It won’t just help them; it will help us all — small business is the backbone of our local economy.

These are trying times, and they may well continue for weeks. As we weather the hardships, consider what others are facing, and if you can lighten their burden even a little, offer your assistance. You’ll both gain from the gesture.

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