Mayor touts gift card campaign, sales tax extension as ways to help small businesses


Mayor Sharon Weston Broome this afternoon challenged Baton Rouge’s 100 largest companies to buy 500 gift cards each from small, local restaurants participating in the city’s new Keep BR Serving campaign, which is designed to keep the local restaurant sector from completely going under while they’re shut down during the coronavirus crisis.

Broome made the challenge at an afternoon news conference outside the neighborhood diner Zeeland Street Market. The campaign will direct 20% of proceeds from restaurant gift card sales directly to impacted service staff members to help cover lost tips and wages.

“Imagine the difference we can make if the top 100 businesses purchase 500 gift cards each,” Broome said, flanked by restaurant owners and business leaders. “Those 50,000 gift cards can make a world of difference.”

Broome also announced an executive order extending sales tax deadlines for February and March by 30 days each and waiving any penalties and fees for late filings.

“Hopefully, this will provide a brief respite for businesses,” she said.

The extension will not impact the delivery of city services, overall cash flow or the parish’s bond rating, she said.

The measures are designed to provide immediate relief to the parish’s small business community, which has been hit hard by the mandated closures and has the least wherewithal to weather a prolonged shutdown of commercial activity.

Baton Rouge’s bars, restaurants and hospitality industry employs some 32,300 workers and generated more than $638 million in payroll in 2019.

In another announcement of forthcoming aid, Baton Rouge Area Chamber President and CEO Adam Knapp said Louisiana has been declared eligible for disaster loans by the Small Business Administration, a move that was not unexpected but did not become official until this afternoon.

By Thursday, businesses should be able to apply online for up to $2 million in assistance at a 3.75% interest rate. For nonprofit organizations, the interest rate would be 2.75%.

Updated information from BRAC indicates more than 60% of local businesses across all sectors expect major impacts from the growing coronavirus disaster, Knapp said.

Yet another source of disaster assistance is from the Baton Rouge Area Foundation’s emergency relief fund, established earlier this week. BRAF Executive Vice President John Spain and Broome urged anyone who is able, including large companies, to contribute to the fund.

Said Broome: “We are facing this crisis as a community.”

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