Area residents now can give a big hand to help small businesses navigate through the coronavirus pandemic.

The website at SupportLocal.USAToday.com has been launched to help small businesses who are impacted by the quarantines and closures caused by COVID-19.

Created by Gannett, the parent company of USA Today and the Times Record, the site features businesses from across the country, allowing and encouraging individuals to purchase gift cards to use at the small businesses at a later date.

Located at 908 S. Greenwood Ave. and specializing in women's clothes, shoes, travel bags and more, Clothologie is listed under the "Fort Smith, AR" section of the website and allows visitors to purchase $50 gift cards. The gift cards are emailed to the purchaser and contain specific instructions on how to redeem at checkout.

"We had to close our storefront for the safety of everyone, and we've had about 10 customers buy gift cards; we're hoping for more," said Kayla Smith, who co-owns Clotholgoie with her mother-in-law, Terri Smith. "We're offering free shipping on our website, ShopClothologie.com. We normally have free shipping on $50 or more, but we've decided to have free shipping on any amount for those who shop with us on Instagram, Facebook and our website — to help everyone out during this time."

Kevin Gentzel, chief revenue officer for Gannett, referred to small businesses as "the heartbeat of America," in a press release that focused on SupportLocal.USAToday.com.

“We proudly support businesses in all of our communities and that is exactly why we launched LOCALiQ in 2017 — to help business owners thrive and grow," he said in the release. "Support Local will give our readers and local communities the opportunity to ensure sustainability for their favorite businesses as we all strive to make it through COVID-19 together.”

The site also allows small business owners and visitors the ability to add the names of small businesses to the list.

"We are so excited to be listed on the website," Smith said. "We didn't even know we were listed at first until we saw our name on the site, which is great.

"Last weekend, I posted online a friendly challenge for people to buy gift cards for other businesses," she added. "Maybe one of those businesses turned around and put our business on SupportLocal.USAToday.com. However it happened, it's been really, really nice."

In the United States, small businesses with less than 20 employees make up almost 90% of all U.S. business enterprises in the country, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.

"Gift cards are always good," said Bobby Aldridge, a member of the Fort Smith Downtown Association who co-owns Simply Couture Boutique with his wife, Tammy. "But if I had my preference, I would prefer that people come and shop at the businesses. Several places are offering curbside service in Fort Smith."

Open Tuesdays through Thursdays and located at 305 Garrison Ave., Simply Couture is offering private shopping time for customers, as well as video shopping opportunities for those who can't make it to the store. People can call (479) 650-3202 to schedule a time for private or FaceTime shopping session, Bobby Aldridge said.

"Honestly, our business has been dead because (of the coronavirus)," he said. "Our overall sales have been down 90%, and what sales we've had have been online at SimplyCoutureFS.com."

Smith said Clothologie also is offering a private shopping option for customers.

"People can contact us and make an appointment to do one-on-one shopping with us, where they will be the only customer in the store with one of us at that time," she said. "We will disinfect the place like crazy to keep each person safe."

Smith and Aldridge both called the concerns and quarantines surrounding COVID-19 unprecedented.

"If something drastic doesn't change, it could be really scary," Aldridge added. "People are talking about loans to help small businesses, but the thing with a loans is, you have to pay that loan back. But how can you pay loans back when your business numbers are down? It's a scary time."

Officials with the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce have posted links and resource information regarding COVID-19 at www.fortsmithchamber.org/covid-19-tips-and-resources. Among the information is how companies can donate Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) — masks, gowns, face shields, goggles, gloves, ventilators and more — for healthcare workers, who are on the front line fighting COVID-19. Those wishing to donate these items, which are in short supply, can email seoc.resources@adem.arkansas.gov.

"We'd like to reopen our storefront sooner than later, but obviously with confirmed cases of coronavirus here, we'll need to wait and see how many more confirmed cases happen before we'll be able to open back up again," Smith said.

"The good thing about small businesses is, your customers are what make you," she added. "We have so many repeat customers who are supporting us by buying gift cards. They want our store to succeed. They want us to still be here when everything reopens again."