Shining a light on local businesses

Alexis Grossman, president of the LaGrange Chapter of Tri Kappa delivers two medium pizzas to a customer during Wednesday’s Shine LaGrange event. The campaign is designed to help support local businesses by shining a spotlight on them through a Facebook campaign and help deliver customers to those businesses.

HOWE — For many people, Wednesday’s Shine LaGrange event offered them a chance to get a great deal on a freshly made pizza.

But for the Howe restaurant’s owner, Terry Iannarelli, the event was one for a lifetime.

Thanks to Shine, Iannarelli sold more than 120 pizzas on Wednesday, his biggest day since the pandemic landed in Indiana and forced state officials to shut down dine-in services at restaurants like his. Despite a steady stream of carry-out orders, Iannerelli admits his restaurant was still struggling, so to be highlighted by Shine helped his business with a much needed infusion of cash.

It’s just one of many ways communities are finding to try to support small, local businesses through the pandemic.

Shine LaGrange is a Facebook-based campaign started by the members of the LaGrange First Church of God. Ben Stuckey, the pastor at the church said the campaign’s goal was to help spotlight local businesses and help by pushing customers to those businesses. Wednesday event officer people a chance to preorder an $8 medium pizza from Iannarellis.

Terry Iannarelli said he and his staff were thrilled to see all the orders come in.

“We’ve been smiling all day getting ready for this,” he explained.

Shine LaGrange is just one of a handful of campaigns started by people and organizations across northeast Indiana developed to help connect customers and struggling businesses during the coronavirus pandemic. Iannarelli said times have been tough at the restaurant since the shutdown began.

“Wow,” Iannarelli said, pausing for a few seconds to gather his thoughts. “This is really a good thing because business has really been slow. To go orders have been steady, and it’s been enough to pay the bills, but there’s no extra there. The money you need to have to do the things you need to do, like, say, mow the lawn, the kind of expenses we’ve had to put off.”

The Noble County Economic Development Corp. created a Shop Noble campaign and featured it on the EDC website. Gary Gatman, Noble County EDC executive director said the point of the campaign is to highlight locally owned businesses. He said that these grassroots campaigns have become an important economic link for many businesses that are struggling.

“From an economic development perspective, these efforts are critical. We launched our Shop Noble portal and have 1,200 to 1,500 visitors accessing information about restaurants, retail stores, and small businesses,” he went on to explain. “We’re promoting buying from small, family-owned businesses because many of them are the ones taking the brunt of the impact from everything that’s going on. Many are hurting pretty bad, and anything that shines a light on them, or creates an opportunity for them to get resources or support or drive traffic to them, I would say that is mission-critical.

Gatman said small businesses play a huge role in the life of every community because they give each community its unique character.

“You don’t want your community to lose those places, because they do help to define the culture of the community,” he added.

Stuckey said his church provided an important platform to launch Shine LaGrange since it already had a strong online presence. But he added that the community itself has helped Shine grow to be the powerful local tool that it’s now become. So far, the group has shined its spotlight on Parkview LaGrange Hospital, Miller’s Merry Manor, Romer’s Restaurant, Ludders Cleaner in LaGrange and then Iannarellis.

“We were just trying to prop up local businesses,” Stuckey said.

Stuckey said once it was up and running, the campaign started evolving as more people became involved.

Now the program is tagging in partners, like Tri-Kappa, that organized the pizza event at Iannarellis in Howe.

“This was just an opportunity for a nonprofit organization like ours to shine a light in dark places,” said Alexis Grossman, president of the LaGrange chapter of Tri-Kappa, a philanthropic organization.

Tri-Kappa also invited two other businesses, a landscaping company that has flowering plants for sale, and Howe based Ohana Kalea Shave Ice to set up nearby.

“This was just a great chance to help out local businesses that are going through hard times right now and boost up their sales,” Grossman said.

Wednesday’s event was so well received that Iannarelli said he ran out of supplies and had to shut off the pizza sales at 123 pies.

Shine LaGrange’s next sponsor, the nonprofit LaGrange Communities Youth Centers, will be hosting a special event at the Bliss Dish, a LaGrange ice cream shop on Spring Street.

“Once you start tagging in other organizations, you start getting more volunteers and touch more people,” Stuckey said of the rapid growth of the Shine LaGrange campaign. “Everybody wants to do something.”

Gatman said business owners have told him they’re thrilled to be on the Shop Noble website, and more businesses are approaching the EDC asking to be included.

“People tell us they just appreciate the fact that somebody cares,” he said. “We have plans to expand the program. It’s still in its first 30 days, but we’re looking at doing some additional marketing and advertising and try to make it a permanent campaign in the county that encourages you to buy local and provides with the tools to do it.”

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