hen it comes to supporting local businesses, we all need to play a role this holiday season.
It should come as no surprise that small businesses in Baltimore - and nationwide - are getting absolutely crushed by COVID-19. More than 12,000 small businesses call Baltimore City home and they collectively account for more than 150,000 local jobs, mostly employing Baltimore City residents (source). That's roughly a quarter of this city's population that directly depends on a small business for their livelihood.
The holiday season (November 1 - December 31) typically makes up 20-30% of small business annual retail sales (source). This is the time of the calendar year that can either make or break a small business. And right now, they're breaking under the weight of more COVID restrictions without any federal or state relief in sight to ease the burden. We have to do something during this crucial time of year to ensure that they make it to 2021.
For those with the financial means, this means making a concerted effort to seek out small businesses instead of e-commerce behemoths, supporting them with your wallet. To that end, we have launched a platform called Buy Local Baltimore which displays 200+ of our city's small businesses in an interactive, customizable manner.
You can use this platform to search by store type, products sold, neighborhood location, and small business owner characteristics in order to discover exactly what you need this holiday season.
But for those who can more readily give their time and talent, there is another way to support small businesses.
In a partnership with Equalyze - a Loyola-based student startup that connects university students with small businesses for project consultations - we have launched Force for Local as a way to facilitate a volunteer program between local citizens & local businesses this holiday season. Force for Local Volunteers can donate any number of hours per week, and small businesses are connected to assistance free of charge.
If you're a small business owner looking to find a volunteer or two, you simply have to fill out this short form which details your company's greatest need(s) this holiday season.
If you're a volunteer looking to lend your skills to a small business in need, you simply have to fill out this short form which details your interest and capacity.
The Equalyze team is hard at work making relevant matches every day, and will be in touch with both sides of the matching pool shortly after you sign up.
The volunteer engagements will start ASAP (we know time is of the essence) and are expected to be wrapped up by the end of the year.
The scope of what you work on is entirely dependent on the small business' needs and the volunteers' skillset and interests. But some recurring project types have emerged, including:
After getting matched, the small businesses and volunteers will have an introductory call to set the scope of the engagement. There are no shortage of creative and innovative ways to collaborate.
More information on the type of potential projects can be accessed after submitting the sign-up form.
While it may seem like a cliché by now, small businesses truly are the backbone of any city's economy. Over one quarter of Baltimoreans depend on them directly for their livelihood. These are not just abstract entities - they are our neighbors. And our neighbors need our help.
We've been heartened to see a collective agreement that supporting local is the way to go this holiday season. But providing the proper support will take more than sharing posts on social media, more than policy prescriptions, more than any individual effort we can muster.
So - please - we implore you to join one today. Our city depends on it.