As Austin goes barreling into another unpredictable winter, pamphlets are floating around on the sometimes-chilly breeze, delivering tips about how to keep warm and prepare for emergencies. (Cue the demonstrations of terra cotta pots placed upside down over decorative candles.) It’d be nice to live somewhere with a less-than-frantic capacity for managing its power grid, but for now Austin businesses have … Yelp.
The trusty online neighborhood guide is taking things into its own crowdsourced hands. In December, it announced its $100,000 winterization fund, Deck the Halls with Yelp, which allowed Austinites and San Antonians to nominate small local businesses to receive warming grants. Those supporters eventually voted for nine Austin businesses, and one intrepid San Antonio staple.
A press release lists some of the spikes Yelp noticed in consumer interest related to keeping buildings in working order in the wake of the big freeze last February: Somehow, chimney sweeps were far in the lead, at a 64 percent increase, followed by fireplace and generator services, each at 30 percent.
Red flags like these showed Yelp where its resources could “prevent setbacks,” Emily Washcovick, a small-business expert at Yelp, explains.
“Yelp’s holiday winterization fund is one way we hope to give local businesses that are essential to our communities a helping hand following this year’s extreme weather,” she says.
The giveaway recipients are free to use the cash influx — $10,000 each — on whatever winterizing needs they may have, and hopefully just in time for colder weather. With a diverse winners list including more than just the expected bars and restaurants, this means the funds are being applied to some unique needs. Four Austin businesses explained their plans to Yelp:
- Donn’s Depot, a reclaimed West Fifth Street bar and music venue, was already feeling the pressure from pandemic closures before the February storm hit. It’s spreading the $10,000 it’s getting from Yelp across multiple upgrades, says bar manager Michelle Beebe, including electric, heating, plumbing, and even some cosmetic tweaks. “This incredibly generous gift will help us keep up with the daily (and constant) needs of an 1800s train depot.”
- Even when the power was out, Paws on Chicon had to stay on top of customer needs. “I could not let people’s pets go without food,” says owner Keith Zeiler, “so I did everything in my power to make sure they were all fed while we were out of power for seven days.” The pet-supply store is keeping its winterizing list tight, with its eye on new generators to keep operations going smoothly and raw meat cold.
- The cute drink parlor Revival Coffee is making the funds work for extreme weather year-round, keeping patrons comfy with outdoor heaters in the winter and fans in the summer. Owner Gabriela Bucio thanks her staff for their hard work through “unprecedented circumstances,” and reaffirms a commitment to hiring locals, “especially in East Austin, which is an underserved and predominantly Latin community.”
- Mint Salon, a sparse but chic hair collective that blends right in with retro industrial Hyde Park, is putting its winnings into that defining front facade. The salon is replacing its gigantic windows, keeping things stylish but a little better insulated. Melissa Beckham Gass gives thanks for the leg up: “The Austin community takes care of its local businesses and we are happily celebrating our 22-year anniversary because of them.”
Alongside these four hometown heroes, Aviator Pizza & Drafthouse, Crema Bakery & Cafe, Foxhole Culinary Tavern, Kismet Cafe, and Taste of Ethiopia are all making their own changes with $10,000 Yelp grants.
Comfort Cafe, the sole San Antonio recipient, is seeing an unusual role reversal as it sits on the receiving end of supporting funds. All profits from the women-owned breakfast joint support SerenityStar, a nonprofit confronting addiction with a spiritual and familial focus.
To read more about these 10 businesses and how they coped with the storm, visit blog.yelp.com.