The coronavirus pandemic isn’t just threatening the health of individuals, it’s pummeling small businesses, as state and local officials have ordered non-essential businesses to close and told people to stay at home as much as possible.
Now there’s a new effort to connect Chicago’s neighborhood businesses with Chicagoans who want to “buy local” and support them — a website called Shop in Place Chicago.
The site, launched by the Institute for Justice Clinic on Entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago’s Law School, describes Chicago’s small, local businesses as “the building blocks of our neighborhoods in Chicago” and urges people to “help support Chicago’s hometown entrepreneurs.”
Sylvia Emuwa’s business, Dinobi Detergent, is one of those hometown entrepreneurs. Emuwa and her husband developed a plant-based, natural laundry detergent, which they sell from their South Side warehouse. They’re currently offering free delivery and a 25% discount to Chicagoans.
“Of course, everyone is rushing to the big box stores to get all their supplies,” Emuwa said. “They’re kind of clearing everything out, and people don’t know there are other resources out there that are just as price-friendly.”
The Shop in Place Chicago website, which clinic staff put together in just a few days, features a directory of businesses on a map. Users can sort by neighborhood or by the essential service they’re looking for — everything from food to office supplies to cleaning products.
“We knew that it would be really difficult for some of our local neighborhood businesses to stay in business,” said Beth Kregor, director of the clinic. “And at the same time, we knew there were lots of Chicagoans who would really be excited to support local businesses.”
Businesses can add themselves to the directory as long as they have fewer than 30 employees and something to offer during the shutdown.
The entrepreneurship clinic kicked off the site yesterday with just seven businesses; that grew to three dozen over the first day. Kregor says she hopes the map is soon “completely covered in pins because loyal customers and small business owners will submit more suggestions.
“This gives folks a way to find those local businesses, those local entrepreneurs who can supply them with what they need as an alternative to going with the behemoth suppliers,” Kregor said.
Fola Dada said a customer must have added his business, OjaExpress in Bronzeville, which delivers ethnic groceries. “If you’re looking for some Nigerian spices or hajj chicken or goat meat — you can’t find that in the mainstream stores,” Dada said, adding that immigrants in particular rely on these foods.
Dada said the new website helps make mom-and-pop stores and ethnic stores “more digitally visible so that people can think about them and they stay top of mind” during the shutdown.
Kregor said she thinks people are hungry for ways to help their neighbors while also getting the supplies they need.
“I know that so many Chicagoans are really devoted to their neighborhoods and to their city, and will be thrilled to have the tools to spend those dollars at local businesses,” she said.
Linda Lutton covers Chicago neighborhoods for WBEZ. Follow her @lindalutton.