Since tourists make up a large portion of their customers, businesses on Chattanooga's Southside have been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
To bring in more traffic, businesses on the 1400 block of Market Street, located across from the Chattanooga Choo Choo, are banding together to host the Southside Shop the Block contest running now through Oct. 31.
Shop the Block punch cards are available at any of the four businesses: Boxcar General Store, Chattanooga Whiskey, The Hot Chocolatier and Wildflower Tea. Customers can get their card punched after making a purchase at each store, and people who get a punch at all four businesses are entered into a drawing to win a basket of items valued at $140 from all of the participating businesses.
"Due to this whole pandemic, sales have been really slow on the Southside," The Hot Chocolatier owner Wendy Buckner said. "We're just trying to figure out a way to drum up some business."
Boxcar General Store owner Danielle Landrum said the idea for the contest came about as she and the block's other business owners were looking for a way to bring customers into their stores in a safe way during the ongoing pandemic.
"This gets people out here to shop, but spread out over a length of time," she said of Shop the Block.
Landrum and her husband also own Locals Only Gifts on Frazier Avenue, where she said business has picked up much more in recent months than it has on the Southside — though she's not sure why.
The Hot Chocolatier's customers are a blend of loyal local fans and tourists, both of which are staying home more during the pandemic, Buckner said.
The same is true at Wildflower, which owner Hillary Libby said is only doing a fraction of the business the tea shop did last year.
"I think 2020 has shown us that small businesses are very vulnerable, and Chattanooga is a city that thrives and is made the unique city that it is because of the small businesses that are there," Libby said. "It's kind of going to be up to the communities to really make sure they're able to sustain themselves through this."
Wildflower started selling more of its products online this year and made adjustments to its space — such as removing the shop's community table — to make it safer for customers coming into the shop, said Libby, who hopes she and her neighboring businesses will continue to support one another after Shop the Block.
"I've always thought that we have a really interesting set of businesses, and it's strange that it's taken us till 2020 to finally collaborate," Libby said. "But 2020 has given us all reason to think outside the box."
Contact Emily Crisman at email@example.com or 423-757-6508. Follow her on Twitter @emcrisman.