Covid-19 has made 2020 a year of challenges and uncertainty for many small businesses across the United States. Here are three stories of the incredible work that small business owners in our area are doing to keep our community moving forward through this difficult year.
Community dialogue at Harriett’s Bookshop
Last month, Harriett’s Bookshop owner Jeannine Cook hosted a Sisterhood Sit-In at Fabrika on Frankford Avenue.
The theatrical Afrofuturist event celebrated the re-opening of the Harriett’s Bookshop storefront and was a response to racist emails—threatening violence toward business-owners, employees, and their families—that were sent to Cook and several other local Black-owned businesses the month before.
Cook’s sister Jasmaine helped emcee the Sisterhood Sit-in. The event featured poetry, music and performance. Taking inspiration from the book Caste by Isabel Wilkerson, the sit-in challenged attendees to envision what a post-racist world would resemble. Following the performance, participants marched in procession down Frankford Avenue and around the corner to Harriett’s storefront on Girard Avenue.
Since the inception of Harriett’s Bookshop, Cook has considered the store more than just a place to buy books. The shop provides a space for dialogue; it’s a place for neighbors to connect, read, discuss, relate, and build community.
“One thing about our society right now is that there is a lot of monologue,” Cook told NKCDC. “There’s a lot of speaking and not so much listening. And I thought that a bookstore was a great place for people to have those kinds of conversations that come after you’ve read a book.”
Looking out for neighbors at Sulimay’s Restaurant
When the Covid-19 pandemic first arrived in Philadelphia in March, Sulimay’s Restaurant owner Chadd Todd wanted to do something to help his neighbors.
His business was forced to close its doors under state lockdown orders, but Todd knew he wasn’t the only member of his community going through difficult times.
“It was terrifying in the first moments of it,” Todd said. “Nobody wanted to do anything, especially the elderly who were high risk, so we walked around the neighborhood to people who emailed us that they were in need, or that they had an elderly neighbor in need, and brought food.”
Todd then teamed up with Penn Treaty School to provide meals to students and families that also had been affected by the shutdowns and needed assistance. Other local small businesses, including Four Sons Pizzeria, Fishtown Realty, Murph’s Bar, One Stop Deli, Riverwards Produce, and Whipped Bake Shop, also stepped up to support the effort.
“We got a bunch of donations from people, local businesses helped as well, it wasn’t just us,” Todd emphasized, “We got it done because people helped us.”
Keeping neighbors connected at Franny Lou’s Porch
For Blew Kind, owner of the cafe Franny Lou’s Porch in East Kensington, human relationships have always been at the heart of her motivation to run a business.
Kind, who has worked in coffee service since she was 14 years old, and opened her first coffee shop when she was just 22, said she enjoys the industry because it brings her close to her neighbors.
“I love working with people—I think that’s why I love coffee,” she said. “And that’s the beautiful thing about small businesses, that you get to know the owners and the owners get to know the customers on a personal level because they’re your neighbors and you really care.”
While Covid-19 has forced Kind to make adjustments to her business in recent months—she began serving coffee through an open window at the shop—it’s remained her priority to keep Franny Lou’s customers connected.
The cafe’s newsletter is a great resource to keep neighbors engaged and inspired. It provides updates about the latest happenings at Franny Lou’s, information about community resources, and a mosaic of inspiring quotes and history to keep readers motivated.
Franny Lou’s has also opened up a garden space where people can rest, enjoy coffee, and participate in outdoor activities, including Farmacy, a pop-up market selling fresh produce from Black and Brown farmers across Philadelphia.
“It’s becoming people’s routine to come by every other Saturday,” Kind said. “It’s just been beautiful for the vendors all to come and be connected and to support family.”
Celebrate and support local small businesses
It’s important to recognize just how essential local small businesses are to the health and vibrancy of our community.
Small businesses provide key services to neighborhood residents. As employers and taxpayers, they’re also engines of economic growth that help generate local wealth. Owners of local small businesses often show leadership and make positive impacts in our community in other ways too.
Despite the hardships that many of these businesses have faced this year, they continue to persevere. Their ability to innovate and overcome is testament to the resilience of our community and continues to keep us inspired at NKCDC.