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TikTok users are posting videos promoting restaurants and stores during the pandemic. And it’s helping

The social media app isn’t all dance routines and lip-syncing. Sometimes its users are boosting small businesses (and those businesses don’t even know it)

The social media app isn’t all dance routines and lip-syncing. Sometimes its users are boosting small businesses.
The social media app isn’t all dance routines and lip-syncing. Sometimes its users are boosting small businesses.Hollie Adams/Bloomberg

Tim Burke noticed business picking up at a restaurant he owns, In a Pickle, around the same time he heard about a viral TikTok that featured it.

“We had customers tell us that they found us on TikTok,” Burke said.

Some said they were regular watchers of Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives,” called DDD by its fans, which also once showcased the Waltham restaurant. But what ultimately drew them in was the TikTok video, the project of an influencer trying to help small businesses survive the pandemic.

“I thought that this TikTok thing is the real deal if avid watchers of DDD came here because of TikTok, and not because of our DDD episode,” Burke said.

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Instead of dance routines and lip-syncing, a few TikTok enthusiasts are posting videos promoting restaurants and stores to try to help them through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I want to support small businesses, and Boston businesses,” said Michelle Rodriguez, the creator of last summer’s In a Pickle video. “Right now, because small businesses are struggling, my pages are a good way for people to remember to go to local places.”

She’s heard from restaurant managers and owners that she’s been driving new customers to try them, said Rodriguez, a teacher who also works at an ice cream shop. “And that means the world to me,” Rodriguez said.

Burke, of In a Pickle, even reached out to her about making a video for another restaurant he owns.

Rebecca Jackson also noticed business picking up at the restaurant she manages, Citrus & Salt on Berkeley Street. More and more people started coming in, Jackson said, especially on the weekends and for brunch. Many recorded their own videos of their food or headed to the ladies’ room to take selfies in front of the famous mirror stenciled “I didn’t text you, Tequila did.”

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It wasn’t until she heard from a journalist that Jackson learned the restaurant had been the subject of a TikTok video by Rodriguez.

Brenna Klaproth, a Boston College student and TikTok user, went to Citrus & Salt after seeing Rodriguez’s TikTok. She and her roommates keep a list of places they want to visit after seeing them on the app.

“TikTok recommendations are becoming a bigger factor in helping us plan our weekends,” says Klaproth. Other users’ positive comments on the TikToks persuade her to go to these places, too.

Girlfriends Boston, another TikTok account, is also trying to draw attention to businesses that have been struggling in the pandemic.

May DeAlmeida and Ana Baptista started Girlfriends in 2018 as an alternative to what they call clique-y meetups planned by more established bloggers. They wanted to make these events accessible to regular people, DeAlmeida and Baptista said.

Soon they realized that people online liked their recommendations of restaurants and stores. After their first TikTok about a restaurant — Los Amigos Taqueria — did well, they said, they saw an opportunity to help other businesses.

“The idea behind the TikTok, more so for us than getting followers and stuff like that, is to help those businesses who are struggling through the pandemic and those businesses who are not well known,” Baptista said. “Secret hidden gems kind of stuff.”

@girlfriendsboston

Reply to @yoana0818 Thanks for the recommendation- IT WAS AMAZING! #ThisorThatSBLV #foodtiktokfood #fyp #boston

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DeAlmeida said that because these businesses are small and local, many aren’t active on social media and might not be aware of the attention because of TikToks.

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“A lot of these businesses don’t even have a clue that they’re blowing up somewhere and then they’re getting this influx and they don’t know where it’s coming from,” said DeAlmeida.

DeAlmeida and Baptista see an opportunity to expand their brand to help all kinds of people, communities and businesses.

“We really want to broaden it and not be so focused on just food because we’re not foodies,” said Baptista, “We’re really just here to help new people in Boston.”

SoWa Vintage, a Boston-based vintage shop, has also benefited from the TikTok trend.

A video tour of the store posted by TikTok user @leah_magss late in the summer has since gotten more than 410,000 views and nearly 70,000 likes.

The viral video was instrumental in boosting business right when they needed it most, according to SoWa Vintage Market owners Stephanie Pernice and John Warren.

“For a small business closed for almost four months during COVID, the TikTok crowd was a blessing because it really helped out a number of small businesses who, you know, we still pay rent,” said Pernice.

Pernice has also noticed a change in the demographics of customers, which she attributes to the TikTok trend.

“We did see a shift to a younger audience. . . . I think a lot of people found out about us because of the TikTok video,” Pernice said.

Warren said he’s thrilled that more young customers are coming in who are interested in the SoWa Vintage Market’s eclectic inventory. He was especially touched to bond with a new crowd of young people who share his love of old books.

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“It’s like magic. It’s just such a really cool feeling to connect with that generation, things that I really hold close to my heart,” he said. “You can see it’s close to their heart, too, which is really special.”