Despite cancelling all its planned activities and meetings the Dannevirke Chamber of Commerce is working to support local businesses during what could be a make-or-break time for many.

Chamber of Commerce chairwoman Stephanie Buckeridge said in a message to members that now was a good time to reflect on the purpose of the chamber.

"Put simply we're here to encourage and support integrated business growth that creates wealth and employment in Dannevirke."

Buckeridge said the quest for positive economic outcomes seemed more challenging today than ever before, with uncertainty circulating throughout every industry affecting everyone in a different way.

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"Now is the time we need to support those around us."

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There are 19 new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand. A fifth person has died, the third from a cluster of cases at a rest home in Christchurch.

Buckeridge said she and chamber member, and Rangitāne chairwoman, Mavis Mullins were working on a project to generate income for local businesses.

"It's a pay-it-forward situation and we're just trying to work on the logistics as to how to make this work."

The plan was to set up a website and list businesses that wanted to become involved.
Their idea was based on the success of SOS Cafe started by Enterprise projects general manager David Downs.

However, after looking into SOS Cafe, Mullins felt that what she and Buckeridge were looking at was simply reinventing the wheel.

She discovered for a business to become part of the SOS Cafe voucher scheme it was as simple as registering on the website.

"There's a lot of talk about rebranding after Covid-19 lockdown, but that's putting the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. It's intervention that's needed and trying to look after ourselves and our community now," Mullins said.

"If I could buy $10 worth of coffee vouchers a week it could help that business and at this stage every cent helps."

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Downs said he was at a small cafe having a cup of coffee when he heard Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announce the Covid-19 lockdown.

"I wondered how small cafes would survive and came up with the voucher idea."

So far 1300 businesses have joined SOS Cafe.

"It's amazing the number of people who want to help."

Downs said businesses from all over the country had registered.

"There are a lot of cafes, restaurants and bars registered but it works for all types of businesses and service industries."

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Downs said in fact he had considered changing the name to SOS Business but SOS Cafe had become firmly entrenched.

Other businesses that had registered included tour operators, beauty therapists, hair salons, pet groomers, cinemas and photographers.

At least four Tararua businesses had already signed up: The Catching Pen Cafe in Dannevirke, Suzie's Coffee Shack, Pahiatua, Long Black Cafe, Woodville, and Pūkaha Mt Bruce.

Downs says the scheme works for any business that has a loyal set of customers who want to see that business survive.

"It's really about a sense of community."

In the two weeks SOS Cafe has been operating it has generated close to $300,000.

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"The income businesses are gaining helps them to pay the rent and all those bills that keep coming in.

"It's an opportunity for people to show their support."

Buckeridge said the chamber feels the scheme is a great idea and one well worth being considered by local businesses.

"However, there are risks, as there are with most things. If businesses don't make it through and aren't able to reopen, they don't have to honour the vouchers so people could lose out."

Downs said this was one of the most frequently asked questions.

"Basically we hope this won't happen but, yes, it is a risk for the person buying the voucher."

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Once a business signs up, it receives some "tips and tricks" to help it survive.

SOS Cafe then acts as an agent for selling vouchers online, supplying them to customers and remitting the money to the business.

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website