LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – From trucks to tacos, Melanie Aquino has seen it all. For seven years, the owner of Wicked Taco Factory ran a popular food truck just steps away from the Arkansas Capitol. But last year, the Little Rock Business owner decided to put it in park. “We decided that it was time to go into a restaurant,” Aquino said, and her team chose a location on 2nd street.
But Aquino couldn’t have guessed that a global pandemic would halt those plans, pushing back the restaurant’s grand opening from April to September. “I finally got to the point where I said, ‘we have to open no matter what, we just need to get open,'” she remembers. So far, she says business has been a challenge with COVID-19 hitting small businesses hard. Part of the problem, she says, is the shop’s location off the main strip, and the fact that people are headed out to eat less often. “We need to get the word out more,” Aquino said.
That’s where Keep Local Alive comes in, a national movement started during the pandemic to keep money in local economies. The movement’s first city was Omaha, but its latest target is Little Rock, with the Natural State chapter launching just last week. Cofounder Bobby Johnson says the effort asks locals to move $20 a week from big chain stores to local businesses, and focus on specific locations through “boost crews” organized through Facebook. “We’ve officially launched the group in 75 cities,” Johnson said. “The idea behind a boost crew is that we find a business that could use some help.”
Aquino was the first in Little Rock to see the boost. She says the added support turned business around, something she’s grateful for. “We got lots of people to come in and see us who had never heard of our restaurant before,” she said. “Being a small business owner, it makes a big difference.”
According to Keep Local Alive’s website, if every adult in Little Rock spent those $20 a week at local businesses, the city would retain about $170,000,000 a year in the local economy. You can join the Facebook group here to help support local businesses or get the word out about your shop, and take the pledge to support local on the website here.