According to a press release from the Office of the Mayor in April 2020 (source), more than 12,000 small businesses call Baltimore City home. They collectively account for more than 150,000 local jobs, mostly employing Baltimore City residents. With a dwindling population of just under 600,000, it can be inferred that roughly one quarter of all Baltimoreans depend on a small business for their livelihood.
And on Friday, November 6th, Baltimore Mayor Jack Young announced that the City would shortly be entering an "amended phase 1" of coronavirus restrictions, starting on November 12th. Just one week after the new restrictions went into effect, Maryland tallied 2,888 newly-reported COVID cases - the highest daily total on record. So far.
Clearly proactive steps need to be taken to curb the spread of COVID-19 as we collectively brace for the biggest nationwide outbreak to date, but that doesn't lessen the impact felt by the local business community, which is just entering their most pivotal time of the year.
The holiday season (November 1 - December 31) makes up 20-30% of small business yearly retail sales (source). This is the time of the calendar that can normally either make or break a small business. This year, it appears that there will be a lot more breaking than making. By rolling back the dial on lockdown restrictions, small businesses lose the capacity to meet their usual holiday demand that comes from foot traffic and dedicated in-person shopping outings.
Even without a fresh set of coronavirus-induced restrictions, Baltimore's local business community faced an uphill battle for generating usually-lucrative holiday sales. A September 2020 Dynata study found that 62% of respondents planned to do all of their holiday shopping online this year (source), most of which will be gobbled up by Amazon and other corporate e-commerce behemoths.
We had planned to announce this week that Emergence Baltimore was launching a fellowship program geared towards connecting local talent with local small businesses. The anticipated start date of this program would be February 1st, giving us over two months of lead time to prepare for it. Except ... many small businesses might not make it past the next two. If the Emergence Baltimore mission is to be a Force for Local - how could we live up to that credo in this very moment, not three months from now? The plan soon became clear:
If this holiday shopping season is going to be dominated by record high levels of e-commerce sales, then we have to do all we can do in order to help our local businesses become digitally competitive.
That is why our team has spent the past week putting into place a three-pronged approach geared towards supporting the local business community during the fast-approaching holiday season.
First, we have built a platform called the Buy Local Baltimore Navigator. The aim here is to create a resource for any Baltimore resident to navigate through and learn about the local small businesses which sell the items on their holiday wish list.
Users on the platform can search by store types, products sold, their neighborhoods, and even founder characteristics such as black-owned or women-owned.
We have nearly 200 of Baltimore's small businesses already on the platform from previous collaborations with our Emergence Baltimore team, but we're actively seeking more in order to maximize its potential reach. If you're a small business owner (or know one) who'd like to be included on this free resource, just fill out this form.
Second, we have partnered with Equalyze (a Loyola student startup) in order to launch a volunteer matching platform that makes an immediate impact this holiday shopping season. We are actively recruiting volunteers of all skillsets/backgrounds who are interested in sharing some of their time and digital expertise over the next couple of months in order to aid a local business during crunch time.
Businesses who fill out the Buy Local Navigator form will be able to opt-in to this program by answering a few additional questions towards the end, identifying their biggest areas of need and the skills required to help out.
On the volunteer side, Baltimoreans will be able to sign up to provide assistance to a local business owner who is trying their best in order to maximize sales for the holiday season. The types of possible initiatives include web design, social media marketing, photography/videography, and e-commerce sales campaign strategy.
Finally, we will be re-launching our BMore Baskets initiative which aggregates and assembles locally made products within the Baltimore small business community.
Over the summer, members of our Emergence Baltimore team spearheaded this not-for-profit initiative which brought in over $7,000 in sales to the local business community.
With coronavirus restrictions being rescinded, we wrapped up our last sales cycle in July and went on hiatus. But with the new wave upon us - and in the midst of the busiest sales season for most small businesses - we have decided to revive the initiative to meet the demand.
Visit the BMore Baskets website now and keep it in mind for your holiday shopping.
More news on how to get involved with Bmore Baskets will be available in the coming days.
Through these three platforms, we aim to raise more awareness about all the incredible small businesses operating in our city and wonderful people behind them. But more than just raising awareness, we are betting on Baltimoreans to step up and support the local businesses that make the Charm City so damn charming.
Yes, it's easier to do all your holiday shopping via Amazon or a similar mega-entity. And sure, it's likely a little bit cheaper. But at what cost? If you spend $100 locally, 70% of that stays in the local economy. If you spend $100 at a national corporation, less than 40% is retained in your community. With every dollar spent at a large corporation like Amazon, that's a dollar out of circulation in the local economy.
We can't just sit by this holiday season and let our local businesses - our neighbors - go under. We have to commit to showing support in a way that demonstrates that we recognize their value and will do what it takes to keep them around.
So, please, consider becoming a Force for Local and pledging to do what you can to support Baltimore's small business community this holiday season.
Our city depends on it.