When he was a student at the University of Mary Washington, Riley West used to enjoy stopping in for a coffee and pastry from the Italian Station, grabbing a slice at Benny Vitali's and renting kayaks and paddle boards from River Rock Outfitters.
"I like the small town kind of feel, where it's quiet, yet there are fun things to do," said West, who graduated from UMW last year with majors in finance and economics. "Fredericksburg is a community that I think is very connected in the sense that, you’re part of a family. It’s a strong small business community."
When the coronavirus outbreak hit last month, West started to worry about his favorite small businesses and how they would survive the pandemic.
West is a small business owner himself. His company, Blue Skye Media, provides photography services to the real estate industry, from Spotsylvania north to Washington, D.C.
The real estate market has so far not been affected by the pandemic and West said he feels fortunate to still have work.
"So I started looking for ways to give back and to see what I could do," he said.
That involved reaching out to Dan Craddock, owner of the digital marketing company Metro Nova Creative, which last year moved its offices to William Street in downtown Fredericksburg. Craddock said becoming part of the downtown business community over the past year has been "amazing."
"Back in early March, when all of this really happened and I knew there was going to be some trouble for our neighbors downtown, [I decided] we needed to do something," he said.
Craddock designed a logo featuring the words "I Love a Burg Biz," which—partnering with other local businesses Illusions Wraps and Pressed for Ink—he had applied to T-shirts and stickers. He is selling these as part of a "small business care package" to raise funds for downtown small businesses.
The proceeds from these sales go towards the purchase of a $20 gift card or a $20 meal from one of these businesses.
"We're asking that [the businesses] donate that meal to a customer of theirs who has gotten laid off or someone else they know who has been affected, or that they pay it forward in some other way," Craddock said.
West wanted to help Craddock spread word about the small business care package.
Inspired by drone footage of UMW shot by Free Lance–Star employee Allen Schmidt, West spent a day shooting his own drone footage of the university campus and downtown Fredericksburg, absent the students and foot traffic that usually make aerial photography difficult.
West edited the footage with an introduction asking viewers to support Craddock's small business care package and posted the video to Facebook, where it garnered 3,100 views.
"The purpose was to try to help get this care package in front of more people," he said. "It's crazy how it took off."
Craddock said he only expected to sell "five or 10 shirts" but has processed about 50 transactions so far.
"It's been awesome," he said. "Even with everyone having their own financial concerns, just the support we’ve seen from local people has been amazing. And it's not even just Fredericksburg, but people from King George, Stafford, Spotsylvania, Woodbridge—even Arlington."
Craddock's goal was to be able to purchase gift cards or food from 100 different local small businesses and he said he'll be able to meet that goal.
"At the end of the day, I just wanted to try to do something that would be beneficial," he said.