Photo courtesy Aubrey MacKenzie: Recent University of Washington graduate Aubrey MacKenzie poses with a sign promoting his grassroots campaign, Pledge 1200, asking people to support small businesses and restaurants in their local neighborhoods by spending at least a portion of their stimulus checks on those enterprises.
Photo courtesy Aubrey MacKenzie: Recent University of Washington graduate Aubrey MacKenzie poses with a sign promoting his grassroots campaign, Pledge 1200, asking people to support small businesses and restaurants in their local neighborhoods by spending at least a portion of their stimulus checks on those enterprises.

After his neighborhood businesses and restaurants were forced to either close or reduce services because of the coronavirus pandemic, a University of Washington graduate launched a grassroots effort to raise awareness and support those small enterprises.

With a few friends, Capitol Hill resident Aubrey MacKenzie founded the Pledge 1200 campaign, which asks residents to pledge to spend as much of their coronavirus stimulus package money as they can to support the small businesses and restaurants in their neighborhoods or towns.

Although MacKenzie realizes many people are spending their stimulus money on groceries and necessities, he hopes this campaign will get people to think about the small businesses and restaurants in their communities and how they need support to weather the crisis and stay open.

“They’re supporting our families and friends who they’re employing, so I know the money is best spent supporting them,” MacKenzie said. “It’s the best way.”

MacKenzie said he realizes asking people to spend their money a certain way is a bold thing to do.

“I recognize that it is a lot to ask, but, at the same time, I recognize that, by doing it, we’re coming together for our favorite businesses who may be closing down if we don’t,” he said.

He also realizes many people may already be spending some, if not all, of their stimulus checks on their local small businesses and restaurants.

“I’m running this campaign to raise as much awareness as possible,” MacKenzie said. “... Pledge 1200 serves as a unifying message to support small businesses, and hopefully this will get as many people as possible to think critically about where we will spend, not just our $1,200 stimulus checks, but all of our money.”

MacKenzie stressed that Pledge 1200 is not asking for donations. Its only mission is to encourage people to pledge to spend their stimulus check money supporting their small businesses in their community. People who do sign the pledge will never be contacted, nor will their information be shared.

As part of his campaign, MacKenzie has reached out to business owners and asked them to share their stories of how the pandemic and mandatory shutdowns have affected them. He then posted those stories to the Pledge 1200 website.

He said the stories are “incredibly moving,” but the tone of them has changed as the shutdown has dragged on.

“I think, from the businesses I’ve spoken to, they are one step short of terrified of what’s going to happen,” MacKenzie said, adding one restaurant owner reported revenue is down by 75 percent.

He said small businesses have few options available to them when they lose revenue: They cut expenses; they search for additional funding through loans or grants; or they declare bankruptcy. As more businesses exhaust those options, owners risk having to shut their doors for good.

“Some of our favorite businesses are not going to be there anymore if we’re not here to take care of them. So I think it’s a scary time,” MacKenzie said.

At the same time, shopping isn’t as easy as going into a favorite boutique or restaurant anymore, MacKenzie pointed out. That’s why the Pledge 1200 website offers ideas for how people can support their favorite small businesses. For his part, MacKenzie ordered a couple of bags of decaf coffee from a local shop, Looking Homeward Coffee. He prepaid his barber for his next five haircuts and is ordering takeout from local restaurants.

“So, it does take a little bit of creativity to do so, but I think in times of crisis we’ve really got to step up to preserve our favorite businesses,” he said.

MacKenzie also encourages people to pick up their orders and tip a little extra if they can.

“Every dollar that goes to the delivery driver is money that could be spent at the restaurant,” he said.

Thus far, the public’s response to the campaign has been overwhelmingly positive, MacKenzie said.

He and his friends started Pledge 1200 on March 27, when the coronavirus relief package was signed into law, and as of April 14, 620,000 people have signed the pledge, with 84 percent coming from Washington state.

MacKenzie said the campaign started small with he and his friends reaching out to family and friends. Since then, the news has slowly gotten out. MacKenzie said it was a bit of a surprise when someone from Wyoming signed the pledge because neither he nor his friends know anyone from that state.

“It’s neat when our pledge has been spread beyond our network,” he said.

To pledge, read business testimonials or for more information, go to pledge1200.org. Business owners are also invited to share their stories by emailing info@pledge1200.org.