The "SouRQ" initiative looks to help small retail and restaurant businesses.
As the pandemic has rolled on, Sarasota businesses have had to find ways to adapt and stay healthy — and in business. It hasn’t always been easy.
“We work with over 1,200 businesses here at the chamber, but specifically the restaurant and the retail industry sector, they have just really taken COVID so hard,” said Heather Kasten, president and CEO of the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce. “I mean, there isn't a business that hasn't been affected.”
The organization recently launched a new “S ouR Q” initiative in the hopes of supporting local Sarasota businesses, particularly those in the restaurant and retail industries. The S ouR Q endeavor started July 1 and is set to run through the month.
The premise is simple: customers shop at a chamber small business, take a photo, and upload it to social media with the hashtag #SouRQ. Privacy-minded customers can also email the photo directly to the Sarasota chamber.
Each photo enters the customer to win a raffle for a $100 gift card that can be used at many of the chamber’s small businesses. Chamber staff host a raffle each Wednesday and Friday of the week through July. Names have been picked out of a hat, oftentimes on Facebook or Instagram Live. Kasten has noticed Facebook in particular has been popular for residents posting photos at local businesses with the “S ouR Q” hashtag.
Retired resident Laura Newton considers herself a small business enthusiast in the two years she's spent in Sarasota. Newton has enjoyed visiting the Bazaar on Apricot & Lime during the pandemic — it has relatively open spaces and people wearing masks — and entered submitted a photo of herself shopping there. To her delight, she was one of the raffle's first winners and received a gift card to Morton's Gourmet Market.
"I was so excited," Newton said. "I'll probably end up getting cookies for everybody."
The program’s impetus is from a partnership with Florida Power & Light, which provided a $2,500 grant to support local businesses. Of that grant, $500 was spent promoting the initiative on Facebook with the rest going to purchase the raffle gift cards.
“We're just a small staff and just the amount of human capital to pull something like this off was going to be significant,” Kasten said. “We really wanted something very simple that would No. 1, raise awareness, and No. 2, create engagement.”
Work on the program began in early June, but with the chamber's partnership with Visit Sarasota to promote its Savor Sarasota initiative throughout the month of June, Kasten thought it better to launch S ouR Q in July. Communications Coordinator Caitlin Bolton worked up a logo and patriotic theme to match July, and they were ready.
Kasten says she and chamber staff plan to visit about 150 chamber businesses in person to purchase gift cards for the raffle and to help convey the initiative to business owners.
Depending on results, Kasten says she and her staff are considering whether to keep the initiative going next year.