Without all of the regular summer events, Teton County seems quieter than ever. No community summer celebrations, no high school reunions, few family get-togethers, few summer sports. The list goes on and on. While the local economy is continuing to grind along with agriculture remaining the number one industry in this sparsely-populated county, the summer income from tourism in Choteau’s small towns and for those amenity-based businesses is down. There are few, if any, retail businesses that are not taking a hit this year, and many service industries are also seeing reduced revenue.

Because the retailers and service providers in Teton County are almost exclusively small mom and pop shops with full-time owner/workers and a few employees, the economic downturn from the COVID-19 restrictions and concerns is having a big effect on almost every sector of the local economy, including agriculture, which is seeing grim forecasts for fall cattle prices, a reduced demand for grain products (particularly malting barley), and lower than hoped for grain prices.

Early in the pandemic, when the governor closed public schools and issued a stay-at-home directive that affected all but “essential” workers, many called for communities to rally around their small businesses, purchasing gift certificates, ordering takeout food, making every effort to keep local dollars circulating and recirculating in these small-town economies. Since the state has partially reopened, however, the focus seems to have shifted away from supporting small-town, local merchants and service providers.

The economic battering ram of this pandemic, however, has not shifted its focus. There’s probably not more than a handful of Teton County residents who are not hurting in some way fi nancially because of the disease and changes it is making in social and buying habits.

Teton County residents don’t have any power over national policies or even state directives, but what the people who live here do have control over is their own budgets. They can and should decide to prioritize spending that benefits the businesses run in their towns. Do you need twine? Call Front Range Supply.

A John Deere tractor on your place in need of parts? Call Frontline Ag Solutions. Do you need household cleaners, paint, yard tools? Call Ace Hardware or check out Old West Lumber or Teton Lumber Co.

Teton County residents can help each other make it through this COVID-19 economic storm, if they make a conscious decision to shop locally. This county’s small businesses, farmers and ranchers help support schools, healthcare facilities, city and county governments, churches and civic organizations. When local consumers prioritize spending with local businesses, the whole community benefits.

Last week, Choteau lost a recently opened business, Foster’s Farmacy. This is a tragedy. Only local shoppers can make sure that there are not future losses of businesses in this county’s small towns. Now, more than ever before, local residents need to pledge their support to small-town businesses. With this support, the county’s mom and pop shops will survive, and, no doubt, continue to give back generously to their communities.