In the absence of dignified and unifying presidential leadership helping our nation cope and heal with a global health pandemic, economic collapse and racial injustice, I look to Main Street for guidance. Instead of the barrage of rants on Twitter that only agitate anger and spread lies, I listen to how small business owners and community leaders are addressing the outbreak and providing an opportunity to reconcile the many uncertainties our nation and our small towns are faced with. I admire the creative pivots and brave stances these entrepreneurs and activists have taken since the coronavirus crisis and how in the midst of these dark days, these true leaders are trying to create a better world through their well-founded actions.
Be it the new community nonprofit, KALICO Art Center, that created a virtual space for art, hosting online drawing opportunities for artists to connect or curbside pick-up for at home pottery painting. I applaud the group’s staff and board of directors for knowing how vital art and community connection are, especially during times of crisis, and how they responded by providing a safe and unique outlet for expression.
Let’s look at the many small businesses in our Flathead Valley that took preventive measures to protect their workers from exposure to COVID-19 by allowing them to work from home, providing flexible schedules to address a sudden lack of access to childcare, and addressing a long overdue need of paid sick leave. Service industries like our many downtown coffee shops, eateries and craft drinking establishments had to completely redesign operations, taking into consideration not only physical layouts of buildings to ensure physical distancing but also review procedures on sanitization and protocols to keep employees and customers safe, including the wearing of masks. These are not easy tasks to accomplish or implement as a small business, when resources from capital to time make it difficult to rapidly change to meet the crisis. Despite these challenges, up and down the Main Streets of our Flathead Valley, these creative pivots were made and my thanks go out to those leaders who took the health and safety of their staff and patrons seriously.
Some of the small businesses of our community will likely not make it due to the crisis, like Kalispell’s Flair Boutique. I’m sad to see Sara and Ryan Berwerger’s fun gift shop on Main Street close due to the economic pressures caused by COVID-19. Sara and Ryan were not only store owners but actively involved in community efforts and business development. These are the types of leaders we can’t afford to lose.
Be it a nonprofit art center or our longstanding public institutions like libraries or the many places where we gather to eat and drink, our communities and those who take up the burden that leadership requires, are the nation’s salvation to the selfish, toxic breed of control that occupies the White House. May they continue to be a beacon of hope, and may we continue to support them, as they are our vital institutions.
Maggie Doherty is the owner of Kalispell Brewing Company on Main Street.