Opinion: Social media is saving local retail during COVID-19

Knowing new ways to invest in Iowa City retail shops can help preserve and support our community.


Jenna Galligan

Photo illustration by Jenna Galligan

Becca Bright, Opinions Columnist

I miss my job. There, I said it.

Having worked for a local retail shop for nearly a year now, I’ve experienced how much local businesses are an enormous part of Iowa City’s identity. It’s an ecosystem for both University of Iowa students as much as it is natives.

Throughout these weeks, much of that community has survived the severity of COVID-19’s disruption. Establishments like The Java House and Pullman Diner have managed to adapt, continuing business by offering delivery and pick-up only.

However, out of all local businesses, retail has had to adapt the most. Most small retail shops cannot afford to continue to pay all of their employees, so many – including myself – have been furloughed. This doesn’t necessarily mean the business cannot continue to grow.

As Iowa City retail adapts to social media platforms, our community can still shop online and invest in these local businesses.

As COVID-19 continues, fashion and art is becoming harder to sell. With roughly 115,000 Iowans now unemployed, access to any disposable income is quickly becoming minimal. While retail may not be an essential good, our local businesses, as well as the artisans and creatives who work through their sales, are simply musts for our community.

They need our investment.

Investing in local retail is, to their advantage, a flexible thing. By far the biggest tool being used in helping these shops stay afloat is social media marketing.

Megan Lowe has been working at Revival, located in the Pedestrian Mall, for almost two years. She is the shop’s Creative Director and Social Media Manager. I spoke with her about the risks, as well as the needs local businesses have right now.

“For us, we’re focusing on selling the inventory we do have. Customers can still shop on our Instagram accounts, as well as our website,” Lowe said.

I myself have ordered products from Revival, as well as several other local stores in the Iowa community, through Instagram. Shifting to online shopping only is strange, but it’s still an easy, interactive experience. You can talk with sales associates about products you’re interested in, as well as questions about delivery services.

Lowe also said that “besides visiting our online platforms, buying a gift card is the best way to support local retail. Every little bit helps.”

Many Iowa City local businesses have also been advocating buying gift cards. The appeal of it is that when said business eventually reopens, customers can use that gift card to purchase items in person. Until then, gift cards are excellent ways to invest in local retail.

The majority of how we are continuing to invest in our lives has already evolved to be experienced online; from college courses, to religious services, to journalism.

Just as we’re using our access to these online platforms, the same can absolutely be done for local retail. Even if buying a gift card is not affordable, sharing social media platforms is still an impactful way to help these communities grow.

In order to keep our ecosystem of local businesses healthy, we have to prioritize keeping Iowans healthy. Supporting their social media networks is how both can be done.