March 21 st, 2021 will mark one year since Bethelite Genée West created the Support Local – Bethel, CT Facebook group. The group’s purpose is to support our community by encouraging people in town to share positive comments about local businesses. In just a year, the group has accumulated almost 3,600 members, with new content being added in the group every single day since its inception.
West says her motivation behind creating this group was multi-faceted. First, she remembered how communities across the country were affected by the September 11th, 2001 attacks. Small businesses struggled as a result of the economic turmoil. She recalls some Bethel businesses closing, but slowly, things started to rebuild and there was a returning sense of hope. When the news of the pandemic hit and we were told we would be on lockdown, West wondered, “What is going to happen if we are all stuck inside? What is going to happen to our small businesses? If our small businesses fail, families will suffer. Their business is their livelihood.”
This thought scared West, but it did not discourage her. She used it as an opportunity to give back to the community that she loves. Thus, “Support Local – Bethel, CT” was born. On its first day, West gathered fifty members in the group and in the days following, it reached around two-hundred members. West said, “We help them [small businesses] today, so they are here tomorrow.” Her favorite feature of the group is the “Show Us What You Got!” portion, where members post a photo of a meal or an item they bought from a small business in Bethel. It helps to get the word out about what our wonderful town has to offer. Additionally, West is comforted by seeing photos of the meals people enjoy in their own homes. “It’s almost like we are virtually enjoying a meal together by seeing the pictures of local food on our plates in our homes.”
Sharing posts about small businesses can help others discover new places. Unfortunately, a beloved restaurant for several years–O’Neil’s–closed last year. West recalls seeing a comment on Facebook in which someone said, “I forgot they were there!” One of the goals of “Support Local – Bethel, CT” is to help people remember what great shops and restaurants are in this town. There may be a place someone hasn’t heard of, so sharing information can help others make new discoveries or renew old ones.
West feels proud of her town; the kindness and generosity continually amazes her. “During the pandemic, our restaurants stepped up to the plate to prepare meals for frontline workers and those in the community who were struggling to make ends meet.” There is no doubt there is a true sense of neighborly connection in Bethel. It seems we all look out for one another, and the way we came together during COVID is a testament to that notion.
West concludes, “I want people to realize they are the catalysts for change. Sometimes, people wonder, ‘How can one person make a difference?’ But they can if that one person can get other people involved with a good cause.” She continued, “We live in such a cool, vibrant community – we are a destination. When people ask me about where I live, I tell them I live inside of a Norman Rockwell painting. We truly are the quintessential New England town.”
Below are some testimonials from local small business owners reflecting on how the “Support Local – Bethel, CT” Facebook group has helped their businesses during these trying times:
“As if it weren’t enough that Genée’s first thought was to go all in to support our business community in the worst circumstances any of us have seen, she also created a space for [a] community of people who will support small businesses beyond “COVID times”. Her support and dedication have been so uplifting for the baristas and I at Molten. Beyond just sales, she helped introduce a whole new community to our crazy little shop! I’m beyond grateful.” – Wendy Cahill, Owner of Molten Java
“Genée’s support during this pandemic has been amazing. Her commitment to this town and the businesses has not gone unnoticed. I’m positive many of us business owners would have suffered greatly if not for her support.” – Lou Selmanti, Owner of Portofino Restaurant
“I love the way Genée’s page brought the community together and really brought into focus the ‘Shop Local’ movement. As a business owner in town, it always puts a smile on my face and gives me the ‘warm fuzzies’ when I see my business tagged in a post on the ‘Support Local – Bethel, CT’ page. The way the page has grown over the past year is amazing. I am so very thankful for Genée and all of her work in keeping it current, active and wonderful. To all of my customers who have been kind enough to post photos and share their shopping experiences at The Toy Room - Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am far more grateful than words can ever express, and I love you all!” – Kim Ramsey, Owner of The Toy Room