The coronavirus pandemic has made a visible impact on downtown Lansing, with several longtime businesses temporarily shut down or closed permanently. Permanent downtown closures include Good Slice Pizza, Taps 25, Los Tres Amigos and Studio 109, while businesses such as Strange Matter Coffee’s downtown location have plans to return in some capacity.
For the businesses still in the trenches, and those that have already made comebacks — including Jalapenos, Goodfellas Bagel Deli and downtown’s Grand Traverse Pie Co. — a much-needed boost has been given through the support of dedicated local shoppers and social media campaigns, such as Downtown Lansing Inc.’s #LiftUpLocal movement.
The October edition of #LiftUpLocal, which is the final push from the campaign, begins next week.
#LiftUpLocal, an idea originally conceived by Michigan Premier Events in 2019, began in August and functions with the help of 24 brand ambassadors that run the campaign on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. For an entire week, once a month, ambassadors network with local businesses and promote their products and sales by reaching out to the local community online. The hashtag #LiftUpLocal is how supporters can follow the campaign.
Downtown Lansing Inc. tracked down its ambassadors, best described as a group of impassioned Lansing residents that wished to help out local small businesses amid the pandemic, through an application process on its website. The application required potential ambassadors to describe why they love Lansing, and how they could help with their social media presence.
“The #LiftUpLocal campaign came out of a July effort that we held called ‘Fresh Taste of Downtown.’ That program encouraged people to explore, or re-explore, and support downtown, Old Town and REO Town,” said Cathleen Edgerly, Downtown Lansing Inc.’s executive director. “After ‘Fresh Taste of Downtown,’ we were approached about a brand ambassador program. We found 24 residents from the Lansing area that are social media savvy, and they were given $100 gift cards to use in one-week, concentrated periods from August to October.”
#LiftUpLocal’s ambassadors connect with businesses of all types. The ambassadors also help spread the word about the sporadic events, happenings and pop-up shops that have been able to be hosted in downtown Lansing neighborhoods, such as the one-off sidewalk sales put on by Lansing Art Gallery.
“They highlight the importance of people visiting our local businesses through these tough times, and they also highlight who is still open,” Edgerly said.
Edgerly said #LiftUpLocal can help boost a business’s online presence — an absolutely vital factor to help reverse some of the dramatic damage suffered by the immediate decrease in foot traffic since March.
“It’s definitely no secret there’s been a dramatic decrease in our daytime population, and the amount of revenue and sales at our downtown businesses, specifically,” Edgerly said. “Some of the most successful businesses have started online stores and made Facebook Live videos featuring their products. Social media posts have played a huge part in keeping people updated.”
Guillermo Flores, who recently moved to Lansing from Chicago, got involved with #LiftUpLocal after discovering the program via a Facebook post. Flores promotes local businesses and creatives with a weekly livestream talk show he hosts on his Instagram account, so he felt like it was only natural that he chipped in his support.
“This is already what I do, it already aligns with who I am as a person. This is a really cool community of people that just want to help out and share the story of Lansing,” Flores said. “When you support a local business, you are supporting somebody’s dream and something they’re pouring their heart and soul into.”
Priscilla Bordayo said her experience as a brand ambassador has helped her become more connected with her hometown and find some of her new favorite restaurants, such as The New Daily Bagel.
“The relationships I’ve been able to build with the workers and owners have just been incredible,” Bordayo said. “It’s necessary to support downtown Lansing; it got hit really hard during this pandemic. It’s the small things like getting gift cards or writing social media posts about what you ordered that makes all the difference. It’s on us.”
Social Sloth Cafe & Bakery, a new cafe that opened in downtown Lansing back in September that specializes in Turkish cuisine, is one of the downtown shops that has received a helpful boost from #LiftUpLocal and its brand ambassadors.
“The Downtown Lansing Inc. team is always helpful and encouraging. Before we actually opened, when we had first rented the building, they started to email and visit us,” co-owner Burcay Gunguler said.
Social Sloth faced some challenges in the beginning. Its original grand opening was scheduled for May but was delayed due to complications with the coronavirus. But Gunguler said online support has brought in a lot of customers that otherwise might not have known about her restaurant. Brand ambassador Flores was immediately won over by the cafe and said he is now over his fear of sloths.
“We had the brand ambassadors come in one-by-one and eat and try our food. And now, when I ask people how they heard about us, they say, ‘social media.’”
Gunguler said she’s observed local shoppers being very supportive of downtown businesses.
“They’re sharing and spreading the word. Once our neighbors are back open, like Jalapenos, everybody visited them. They’re telling their friends, who are then telling their friends.”