Boost Gives Back! by Jon O’Connell
In just a few months, the Boost Business NEPA initiative created lifelines for struggling businesses. The coronavirus pandemic forced sportswear shop owner Matt Byrne to take his business back to basics. His two running gear destinations, Scranton Running Co. in Scranton and Valley Running Co. in Forty Fort, have grown over the years to include classes and special events that bring runners of all levels together.
His shops felt less like shoe stores and more like diverse communities centered on running and good health. At least that was until the coronavirus kicked the legs out from under all the experiential stuff. “We’re back to the beginning of just helping people on their journey – getting fit and staying fit,” Byrne said, going on to describe the early days of business, when he strived to fit each runner with the perfect pair of running shoes. “It was just me on the sales floor doing everything, building those relationships one customer at a time.”
Byrne won one of the first Boost Business NEPA incentives, a complimentary billboard advertisement from Lamar Advertising. Boost, a regional network of business and community leaders, is a platform for struggling small business owners to find help specific to their needs. The network also taps the power of local and social media to share stories of hope, courage and resilience.
Lamar, a national company with a regional office in Scranton, has a rich culture of philanthropy, and often offers up its vast billboard inventory for charitable causes. Vice President and General Manager Tom Donohue, who leads Lamar of Scranton–Wilkes-Barre, said good will is one of his personal values, but the company gives him the latitude to act on it. “I wouldn’t be allowed to do what I do without the company’s support,” he said. “It’s really a corporate philosophy that they allow us and encourage us to be involved in our communities and help those whom we can.” It struck Donohue when the community sprang to life to give back, even though most people are struggling.
The Boost Balance
As the pandemic unevenly spares some businesses, but wrecks others, those who are thriving are stepping up to help their struggling counterparts. No industry has escaped unscathed, said Joshua Katyl of the Katyl Agency in Dunmore and Forty Fort. But the family insurance company he leads, and the insurance industry in general, has been spared from COVID-19’s heavier blows. The Katyl Agency is putting up $2,500 in matching funds for another Boost incentive winner. The agency received a regional award through Allstate, which included grant money for his community. Among the list of charitable efforts his company supports, Katyl chose to get behind Boost with a matching grant. “I like what they’re doing with Boost Business NEPA,” he said, describing a pay-it-forward effect. Boost helps local businesses, who in turn help people get past the challenges that the pandemic brought on.
Through generosity and compassion, Boost balances the uneven way the pandemic chooses winners and losers. Together, less-affected business leaders can raise up those who have been hit hardest. “We’ve been impacted by this, but we’ve been one of the fortunate few,” Katyl said. “We want to spread some love to those individuals who were hit harder.”
Business leaders launched Boost in September. The network has already created connections between those who can help and those who need it. Marketing executive Helen Lavelle of Lavelle Strategy Group teamed up with Daniel Santaniello of Fidelity Bank and Holly Pilcavage of Coal Creative to recruit area leaders and storytellers who can leave competition behind and lift up their neighbors.
The website, boostbusinessnepa.com, is growing an opt-in directory of companies that candidly spell out what pressing needs threaten to shut them down. Cash flow and access to capital is a strikingly pervasive issue, and it reflects just how bleak the pandemic has made survival for some. “I think boost has already proven it works because of the number of small businesses that have signed up,” said Howard Grossman, a Boost leadership team member. He’s studying proven strategies in other parts of the country, places where initiatives have worked, and exploring whether they can work here. Nonprofits, a sector that provides a surprising number of jobs and also extends critical services, will be a priority focus for Boost in the future, he said.
The pandemic has infiltrated every level of the business community, and bouncing back looks more like a long-distance journey than a sprint around the track. Like having a buddy by your side for a grueling run, Byrne said that camaraderie, rather than competition, appears to be the best strategy for reaching the finish line. “Maybe this is a parallel to running a marathon… one step at a time, one day at a time, we’re going to get through this. We know it,” he said. “We’ve been training for this our whole lives.”
Thank you Mary Kroptavich, MPK Photography of Pittston.
“The time and energy we have all put in is working—so grateful to see such community support.” – Mike McGinley, Times Leader
“I am proud to serve on the Boost Business Leadership Team. We will never give up on our local businesses—the life blood of our NEPA economy.” – Kelly Kostanesky, Boost Social Media Manager
“It is our honor to support Boost Business NEPA we are all in this together.” – Tom Donohue, Lamar – Scranton
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