By Mira Brody ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR
BOZEMAN—After a few emotional phone calls to local business owners, Ryan Rickert felt motivated to do something. It was March 16; Gov. Steve Bullock had just issued the closure of all dine-in food establishments and overnight, many mainstays of the community were laying off most, if not all of their staff, some making the difficult decision to shutter their doors entirely.
Rickert is a local business owner himself. He owns Clean Slate Group and the Wrap Agency in Bozeman and his work has brought him close to many local service industry business owners, including his friends Caleb and Laura Walker, owners of Cold Smoke Coffeehouse. The morning after the governor’s directive, he rallied a group of friends and family to get takeout coffee in an effort to bring them some business on an otherwise melancholy day with a single mantra on his mind: “how can we help.”
That’s when Rickert partnered up with Colter Fretwell to build a website platform called Help Montana that would get cash in the hands of employees who have been affected by COVID-19-related layoffs. The duo had already worked on entrepreneurial projects like FanUp and PintPass together and knew they could put their skillset to work helping those in need.
HelpMontana.org is a mutually beneficial support system between patrons in the community, local businesses and employees affected by COVID-19. On the website, local businesses sell $15 gift cards, which are then bundled with four other businesses into what is called a 5-card pack and each bundle is then sold for $65. The business earns $10 per gift card sold and employees of that business are issued a promo link to share. For each 5-pack sold through an employee’s promo link, that employee will get $5.
Those who enjoy local restaurants and retailers can purchase gift cards to help financially support local businesses right now when they most need income. These gift cards can be spent now for restaurants offering takeout or be saved to use when places are able to reopen. A single purchase, or even share, helps over 40+ local businesses and 1,500+ affected employees.
“This is a community effort—none of us want a struggling town,” said Rickert. “Why not benefit as many people as we can? Help Montana takes Cold Smoke’s affected employees, and turns all the employees that are affected into a virtually linked arm helping one another.”
“I think that this is an awesome free market solution to something crazy like this pandemic,” said Fretwell, who is a Bozeman native and recently graduated from MSU with a degree in financial engineering. “Our whole five card pack model is designed to help bring businesses and employees, some who are potential competitors, together as a united sales force to try and help everyone through this.”
By design, Help Montana wanted to take disassociated businesses such as Cold Smoke, Dave’s Sushi and Knife Sandwiches and cast the support net out as far as possible. Rickert hopes that every business can benefit from Help Montana, including retail and businesses outside of Bozeman as well.
“I think this is a huge opportunity for our community to really show how many quality people are concentrated here,” said Rickert. “Not just in Bozeman but in our valley and in Montana. It takes a village in every day, but we will get through this together.”
Rickert said he is amazed by how readily businesses were willing to team up with their local competitors in order to help, but that it is a reflection of the community’s character.
“Every single one of these businesses are on the website for similar reasons,” he said. “We all live here because we are seeking a quality of life and so much of that is here in the community.”
To get involved, spread the word about Help Montana or purchase a 5-pack from HelpMontana.org today.