16th Street Mall in Denver LoDo

The economic fallout caused by the coronavirus is highlighting the importance of shopping local and supporting small businesses, values Denver City Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer hopes to help maintain even after the pandemic passes.

Sawyer announced on Monday an interactive map tool, called WeAreOpenDenver.com, that allows consumers to locate local businesses by inputting their address or using their current location. The map is populated using crowdsourcing, meaning any local business owner can register their business and let customers know when they’re open.

“I am so excited to support small business in this way,” Sawyer said in a statement. “These establishments are the lifeblood of our community and they are struggling in the wake of the COVID-19 response. Shopping locally helps the hard-working business owners who are our neighbors and friends, and it keeps money in our local economy which is a win for us all.”

Sawyer is encouraging all local business owners to register their business information, which includes the address, hours of operation, pickup and delivery options, as well as industry classification. That information can then be filtered by consumers based on what services and goods they’re looking for.

“Our goal was to create a useful tool for small businesses who need our support, and a helpful resource for residents who want to help support our local economy. It has never been more important to shop close to home,” Sawyer said. “I am grateful for the enthusiasm and efficiency of the City’s (geographic information system) team to get #WeAreOpenDenver up and running quickly to meet this critical need.”

Sawyer said the idea started to take shape after she was briefed by Denver’s chief financial officer about the city’s current economic state. The Hancock administration is currently projecting a revenue loss of at least $180 million due to the virus.  

“I was like, ‘Gosh, what we should do is come up with a way to help our small businesses and give them support, and also identify how we can come up with a marketing campaign to support small business and drive people to shop locally,' because those are Denver sales-and-use tax dollars as opposed to someone going to Target in Glendale.”

The final product, Sawyer said, was largely modeled after a similar tool the city of Seattle recently created, which helps diners find restaurants that are still open for takeout and delivery amid stay-at-home orders.

Seattle’s map service also happens to be a product of the same GIS services tool that Denver has a license to, Sawyer said, “So the map guys were like, ‘Oh my god. We could totally do this.’

“It was not that difficult to pull together once the idea started snowballing and coalescing into something,” she said. “It was really just one of those perfectly amazing teamwork kind of things.”

Sawyer is encouraging other city officials and community members to promote the city’s new tool, which now lives on the city government’s website, by using the hashtag #WeAreOpenDenver. With help from the community, she is hopeful that the tool will continue to grow and ultimately outlast the COVID-19 crisis.

“Supporting your small local businesses never goes out of style, and it’s particularly important right now as businesses are starting to recover from COVID-19,” she said. “But that never runs out of steam. Shopping locally will never not be valuable in our community.”

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