PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Hours after it was launched, more than 50 local businesses have joined an online portal created Tuesday to streamline the way consumers can aid local businesses impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
The website, RIsmallbusiness.org, was created as part of the Gift it Forward initiative and announced during a small business conference call hosted by Rhode Island Lt. Gov. Dan McKee’s office.
McKee said the portal, which was designed by Warwick-based Oceanside Graphics RI, has three key features: business registration, community nominations and corporate giving.
Small businesses can add their information so that consumers can go onto the website and buy gift cards from them.
Members of the community can also nominate a local business to be added to the website, after which Gift it Forward will contact the business to get their approval to be included in the gift card database.
Larger companies can submit their information to be connected to small businesses in need of support.
“Our small businesses need us now more than ever,” McKee said Tuesday. “Gift it Forward is just one way we can all step up and help a local business right now.”
Oceanside Graphics RI volunteered their time and resources to run the website, according to McKee. The company normally specializes in screen printing, sign manufacturing and business branding.
Owner Justin Gontarek said his business has also dealt with hardship because of COVID-19. Last week, he had to lay off his entire staff after multiple large clients ended their contracts with the company due to the financial damage the virus has caused nationwide.
Gontarek said laying off his workers, most of whom have young families, was “probably one of the hardest things [he’s] ever had to do.”
Despite their struggle, the small business was able to reinvent themselves and rehire their staff thanks to an idea from one of Gontarek’s workers: They started printing stickers to help first responders who could potentially become exposed to coronavirus.
“[The sticker] said, ‘I’m being quarantined for 14 days’ to put on their home so that if there was an emergency at the house, it would be on the door with the date that that person started their quarantine,” Gontarek explained.
The company was also able to make face shields with donated and FDA-approved plastic, according to Gontarek.
Gontarek said they have 2,000 confirmed orders and are “working on an order for about 26,000 pieces that would be a national order to go out through a very large nursing home facility.”
Right now, Gontarek tells Eyewitness News the company is also in the process of building an emergency clean room for shop for the supply of the face shields.
Through their project, they were able to catch the attention of McKee, who was already looking for a way to connect small businesses during the pandemic.
Gontarek said he’s grateful that so many businesses have already signed up to be a part of the website and called the project “one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever been a part of.”
“It’s pretty amazing considering the small amount of time this has been out there. It’s a ray of sunshine in a dark time,” he added.
According to Gontarek, they’ve seen a wide variety of people sign up for the service so far, from dog walkers to musicians.
People who want to support a small business don’t need to buy a gift card to contribute. Because the business puts their information online, consumers can also send checks or other forms of payment.