November 25, 2020

9 Ways to Support Small Businesses

There are always times when you need delivery. But on other days, think twice about how you order takeout. Rather than using a delivery app, ask for curbside pickup: Sites like Grubhub and Uber Eats charge restaurants fees that can reduce already thin margins. Instacart and Shipt, two companies that offer shopping and delivery, also charge the merchants who use the sites.

And while it is easy to purchase through a so-called digital shop on sites like Facebook and Instagram, shopping through third-party apps typically reduces the net profit for the merchant. (Facebook, which owns Instagram, has waived selling fees through the end of the year but will re-evaluate the practice in January, a Facebook spokeswoman said in an email.)

Help bolster a business’s social media presence by “liking” hardware stores, dry cleaners and other independent shops on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Write positive reviews, post photos generously of purchases, and don’t forget to tag the businesses. And consider slightly broader efforts, like community email lists and social media groups like Nextdoor.

Retailers are savvy when it comes to selling, but many don’t fully understand that social media plays a crucial role, Ms. Breunig said. Through her Facebook group, she started an “adopt a shop” effort, in which residents select a store and commit to shopping there once a week (with no spending minimum) and posting about their experiences on Facebook. Within five days, Ms. Breunig said, 24 Evanston stores were “adopted.”

You can double the effect of philanthropic efforts by involving small businesses whenever possible. Order meals for essential workers from independent restaurants. Shop local when buying for clothing drives. And even if it’s a bit more expensive, purchase from local markets for food drives.

Suzanne Fiske, the director of on-air development for WHYY, the public radio and television stations in Philadelphia, had yet another idea. “Our listeners care about the mom-and-pop shop next door that is having trouble during the pandemic,” she said, so she asked donors on social media platforms to name their favorite local business when they contributed to be read aloud. The station awarded the two with the most votes — Horsham Square Pharmacy in Horsham, Pa., and MYX, a Bryn Mawr, Pa., start-up that creates a custom-blend beverage dispenser — radio advertising worth $3,500. The promotion also motivated listener donations, with more than 700 contributors calling on the day of the small-business challenge, close to three times the typical number, Ms. Fiske added.

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For Small-Business Owners, a Shifting Landscape of Resources

For now, she’s open for business with reduced hours and capacity. “But I’m hanging in there,” Ms. Burns said. “I’m still in a revenue hole, though, for 2020 as compared to last year — about a 30 percent year-over-year drop.

“Coronavirus cases are surging in Ohio right now, so I am unsure how it will play out — we’ll see,” she added.

Here’s a rundown of what resources are available to small-business owners like Ms. Burns. Keep in mind that the rules continue to shift.

The P.P.P. program is closed. For small-business operators who did receive one, the loans are forgivable; in essence, they are turned into grants, if the funds were used for payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent and utilities (a portion of the forgiven amount must have been used for payroll).

Originally, the loans had to be used within eight weeks of receiving the money. That allotted time was pushed to 24 weeks through the P.P.P. Flexibility Act, which also extended the deferment date of the first payment on the loan to 10 months after the end of the covered period, and the loan forgiveness application was simplified.

The S.B.A. does have other helpful offerings. Its Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program provides up to six months of working capital, with a fixed interest rate of 3.75 percent. Payment can be deferred for a year, but interest will accrue. Loans have repayments of up to 30 years.

The agency is also providing small businesses that have a relationship with an S.B.A. Express Lender to access a bridge loan of up to $25,000.

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The Fashion Photographer Who Traded Film for Flour

In the two years since that conversation, Roy, who used to bake dinner bread with his grandmother while growing up outside Montreal, has transformed himself from a hobbyist to a professional baker. He’d made the transition from amateur to expert once before: When he was a 21-year-old graphic designer in Nashville, he bought a Minolta X-370 to shoot test images for his girlfriend, an aspiring model; three years later, he moved to Paris with $400 in his pocket and a dream of becoming the next Richard Avedon. In the early days, his process revolved around the painstaking technique of developing his own color film, but as digital took over, it left him yearning for something new to do with his hands. Last year, he enrolled in a bread-making boot camp at the San Francisco Baking Institute, and back home, he rented a 7,000-square-foot red brick building in downtown Hudson to create a 50-seat bakery called Breadfolks. Roy designed the space and did much of the finishing himself, reimagining it with hardwood floors, whitewashed walls and Germanic stencil typography on a coal-black facade. He bought Italian baking equipment, including a stainless-steel Logiudice oven, known for its precision, and plunged his fingers into the flour.

Roy was determined from the start that Breadfolks, which has a dozen or so employees, not be a vanity project. He starts baking at 4:30 each morning, adjusting recipes as he goes. “A Breadfolks product is something that has these deep undertones of caramel and chocolate,” Roy says. He’s captivated by the Maillard reaction, in which sugars and amino acids are activated by heat to brown the ear and belly of the bread, and though he makes ciabatta, focaccia, bagels, baguettes, croissants and cruffins, his signature is a custardy country loaf that blends whole wheat and rye. “My products have a patina feel to them,” Roy says. “I like texture.” The bakery, which officially opened in August, was an instant hit, and by early September, they were selling 1,000 pounds of bread each weekend.

Still, success is relative in this line of work: “I’m making a living two, three dollars at a time,” Roy says. “There’s nothing more humbling than that after spending years in five-star hotels and private jets.” He and Joanna are also launching a coffee brand, Roastfolks, along with a utilitarian, all-matte stoneware line called Clayfolks, creating a complete ecosystem in one building. The next step is franchising. “I’m not interested in ever opening a Breadfolks in New York City or places like that,” says Roy, whose photography is now mostly relegated to his bakery’s Instagram feed. “My intention is to create these micro bakeries in these micro places.”

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How One Entrepreneur Changed Her Business Model in the Pandemic

Then, of course, the pandemic happened.

Yet for Geojam, that wasn’t the end of the story. While the pandemic vastly curtailed live events, which like the hospitality, restaurant and travel industry ground to a near halt, the company and the artists found a way to come together.

In March, Ms. Figueroa decided to use her company’s technology to directly connect artists with their fans, with a similar engagement model. More social media interactions around a particular artist equated to greater reward points for fans, who could exchange them for interactions with an artist, like one-on-one FaceTime calls, Zoom cooking classes or even an appearance in an advertising campaign.

What Ms. Figueroa, her two co-founders and investors were able to do isn’t going to work for everyone. But their pivot may offer useful lessons to other entrepreneurs regardless of their wealth and experience. And those lessons may come in handy as coronavirus cases rise again and small businesses that have made it this far struggle to get through a tough winter.

Have multiple lines within a business. Geojam was not Ms. Figueroa’s first venture. At age 26, she already had a hit (Undorm, which she started while in college to advertise apartments to college students and social organizations), a miss (Lenzjam, which she called a too-early version of TikTok) and one so-so venture (One Box Agency, a music marketing agency that gave her the idea for Geojam).

She was eager to test the concept of rewarding fans for their enthusiasm while compensating artists and turning a profit. In the live event model, there would have been plenty of sponsor cash to support Geojam’s planned data mining of fans’ reactions to sponsors’ marketing efforts. It was the kind of microtargeting that sponsors are eager to have.

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To Do Politics or Not Do Politics? Tech Start-Ups Are Divided

The start-up culture wars are also evident on Clubhouse, where people join rooms and chat with one another. The app has been a popular place for investors such as Marc Andreessen and other techies to hang out in the pandemic. (Mr. Andreessen’s venture firm, Andreessen Horowitz, has invested in Clubhouse, Coinbase and Soylent.)

On Oct. 6, Mr. Andreessen started a Clubhouse room called “Holding Space for Karens,” which describes having empathy for “Karens,” a slang term for a pushy privileged woman. Another group, “Holding Space for Marc Andreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeessen,” soon popped up. There, people discussed their disappointment with the Karen discussion and other instances when, they said, Clubhouse was hostile to people of color.

Mr. Andreessen and others later started a Clubhouse room called “Silence,” where no one spoke. Andreessen Horowitz declined to comment.

At a “town hall” inside the app on Sunday, Clubhouse’s founders, Paul Davison and Rohan Seth, were asked about Coinbase’s and Expensify’s political statements and where Clubhouse stood. They said the company was still deciding how Clubhouse would publicly back social causes and felt the platform should allow for multiple points of view, a spokeswoman said. She declined to comment further.

Yet even those wishing to stay out of politics are finding it hard to avoid. On Saturday, Mr. Armstrong shared Mr. Rhinehart’s blog post endorsing Mr. West on Twitter. “Epic,” tweeted Mr. Armstrong.

Several users pointed out the hypocrisy in Mr. Armstrong’s sharing something political after telling employees to abstain. One of his employees, Jesse Pollak, wrote that Mr. Armstrong had shared something with “a large number of inaccuracies, conspiracy theories, and misplaced assumptions.”

Soon after, Mr. Pollak and Mr. Armstrong deleted their tweets.

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When Start-Ups Go Into the Garage (or Sometimes the Living Room)

Pumping a supercold liquid through plastic tubes that snake around the hardware — “it looks kind of like bright blue Gatorade,” Mr. Hedges said — the chillers did what they were supposed to do. But they required extra attention, especially since Mr. Hedges and his family had just bought a new dog, and the puppy enjoyed chewing on the tubes.

“If the dog had ever bitten through the tube, there would have been pumps shooting fluid everywhere,” he said.

For his wife, the bigger problem was the never-ending whir of the chiller pumps. “That’s what drove her over the edge,” Mr. Hedges, 45, said.

In July, he moved some of the gear back into the Cerebras offices, where he now works on occasion, largely alone. Only seven other people are allowed in the 35,000-square-foot office, with most others still at home with their own gear. The arrangement works well enough, Mr. Hedges said, though he does not always have the equipment he needs because it has been scattered across so many people’s residences.

Like Cerebras, other tech start-ups are finding that they need to move their makeshift labs from one place to another — or have several jury-rigged labs going at the same time — to keep development going.

Voyage, a self-driving car start-up in Palo Alto, Calif., initially bought various self-driving car parts and shipped them to two engineers so they could work at home. The start-up sent them lidar sensors (the laser sensors that track everything around the car) and inertial measurement units (the devices that track the position and movement of the car itself) so they could keep testing changes to the car’s software.

But Voyage did not just rely on the at-home setups. In some cases, it arranged for engineers to log on to their home computers for remote access to a collection of car parts set up at the company’s offices.

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‘It’s Fall! Here We Are!’ A Beloved Chocolate Shop Returns

“There’s no secret recipe,” Ms. Vlahakis said. “It’s physics and chemistry.”

Her parents retired to Florham Park, N.J. At 76, her mother died of breast cancer, and Ms. Vlahakis, then living in Manhattan, moved in with her father, who continued to visit the store just to sit and look around. He died at 83 in 2000.

Ms. Vlahakis still lives in Florham Park, and reports to the Jersey City kitchen in her smock, which is the color of milk chocolate, by 8 a.m. each workday. She has no plans to retire, and her sister continues to operate the Staten Island store with her daughter, Kerry. Workers who started under her father tell Ms. Vlahakis that they can still smell his cigar smoke in the kitchen, where two copies of his obituary are displayed.

“Like it’s haunted!” she said.

With the reopening, customers outnumber ghosts in the store again, and a chocolate carousel is spinning in the window. To protect herself and her staff at the counter, Ms. Vlahakis, who wears a mask and asks that customers do the same, installed plexiglass. Only three patrons can come in at a time, but a cross section of the diverse city parades through each day. One recent afternoon, an assistant prosecutor picked up five bags filled with boxes, a vagrant bought a bar with loose change and a St. Peter’s University student asked whether she could use Apple Pay. Ms. Vlahakis does not take Apple Pay, but joked that she could dip an apple in chocolate instead.

Susan Butler was buying for a reunion with high school friends. She informed Ms. Vlahakis that when she was pregnant with her daughter, her daily exercise was walking a few blocks to Lee Sims to pick up chocolate and then walking back.

“Oh, when was that?” Ms. Vlahakis said.

“Well, she’s 51 now!” Ms. Butler said.

During the lockdown, Ms. Butler worried that the shop would be closed forever. “It’s a landmark, a piece of home,” she said. “Most of the places we grew up with, like the bakery, are gone. It’s memories to us.”

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As They Became Seniors, They Started Businesses for Them

For older would-be entrepreneurs who want to capture a piece of the aging-related market, “you have to think of how you take your skills and passions and shift them to a new area,” said Mary Furlong, a consultant on longevity marketing.

A writer, for example, could work with clients to create memoirs and legacy letters. A person with financial expertise could become a daily money manager, helping an older person pay bills and handle other paperwork. Move managers could use their organizational or design talents to help older people move to a smaller home.

Usually with short-term training or certification, a person could start a business delivering nonmedical services, like nutritional counseling or wellness coaching.

Midlife owners, particularly those in the health fields, may find themselves with a leg up when dealing with older clients. Several studies show that elderly people are more likely to take advice from peers on nutrition, fall prevention, and the management of diabetes and other chronic illnesses.

“I think my age does work to my advantage,” Ms. Hardy said. “It really makes a difference to have someone helping them through the process.” As a patient advocate, she helps clients prepare questions for providers, attends medical appointments with them and reviews their care options.

The key to building Sharon Emek’s business was her prominence as a top insurance executive in New York. In 2010, when she was 64, Ms. Emek founded Work at Home Vintage Experts, or WAHVE, which matches insurance companies with professionals over 50 who work remotely as independent contractors.

Two big changes in the industry convinced Ms. Emek that such a venture had potential. Young workers were snubbing insurance for jobs on Wall Street. And many experienced workers who weren’t ready to retire wanted flexible work arrangements, perhaps moving closer to the grandchildren, she said. Female professionals were particularly worried that they would outlive their savings.

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How to Support Independent Restaurants

So what can you do to help your beloved neighborhood restaurants and food businesses to weather the storm? Here are some concrete tips:

1. Eat as much takeout as possible.

Set aside a specific day to give yourself a treat and keep a local restaurant alive. Some restaurants are making frozen-food dishes and other pantry items — frozen enchiladas, dumplings, family-style meals — that will keep longer than any given night’s dinner, so be sure to ask even if they don’t advertise them. Many restaurants are also offering takeout drinks and cocktails.

2. Order straight from the restaurant.

While convenient, delivery apps like DoorDash and UberEats take a significant percentage of sales — up to 30 percent — and it is impossible to maintain a successful business model while using them exclusively, said Mrs. White of Everett and Jones. Instead of firing up an app, call your favorite restaurant and put in your order over the phone, or order directly from the restaurant’s website, if possible.

3. Pick up yourself, and pay cash.

If you can walk to the restaurant and pick up the food yourself, do so, and pay with cash. Is there a friend or family member you can help who can’t go out? Pick up a hot meal for them, too. In addition to getting some extra exercise, you’ll save the business the fees — usually about 2 percent of a purchase — charged by credit card companies.

4. Tip well.

A large restaurant may be able to afford servers to cater to people seated outside, but a smaller restaurant might only be able to staff a cook and a front-of-house person to pack and take orders. Many customers are tipping less, or not at all, because they perceive this to be a lower level of service than they are accustomed to when going out, said Alice Liu, who grew up in Manhattan’s Chinatown and helps run Grand Tea Imports, her family’s multigenerational tea and import business. Remember that restaurant employees are working hard to provide you with a dining experience during an unprecedented time, and at a higher risk of exposure to themselves. A healthy tip is a way to show your appreciation.

5. Shop at markets and stores in your community, too.

So much of a neighborhood like Chinatown depends upon foot traffic. You can buy groceries and fresh produce, gifts and kitchenware as well as restaurant meals. Think about other items you might normally buy elsewhere or online, and consider purchasing from the individual small businesses around you.

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The Baristas Finally Get to Recommend the Champagne

“I love the industry,” she said. “I love connecting with customers.” By the time she met Mr. Moon, she had been promoted to general manager at the shop she would eventually buy. Professionally, her life was satisfying. Romantically, not so much.

“No one had ever shown much interest in me,” she said. “The year before I met Peter I was kind of OK with the idea of being forever single. I was like, I’ll just get older and live alone with cats.” Her cousin, Hannah Yoon, remembers spending New Year’s Eve 2018 with Ms. Kim. “We were talking about the future and the year ahead,” Ms. Yoon said. “She was pretty hopeless, like, ‘I’m never going to meet anyone.’”

Mr. Moon drove Ms. Kim home to the apartment she shared with her brother, Paul Kim, in a building owned by her parents, Helen and Moody Kim, at the end of their Louella’s date. In the car, she floated what seemed to her not a hasty proposition. “Are we boyfriend and girlfriend now?” she asked. Mr. Moon didn’t hesitate. “I was like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’”

Love rushed in. “One night, maybe a month and a half after we met, I was talking to him and I said, I want to tell you something, but I don’t want to say it unless you want to say it back,” Ms. Kim said. Mr. Moon responded with “I love you.” By then, they had already cleared a hurdle neither had anticipated: “My dad had made a profile on Facebook so he could stalk Peter,” Ms. Kim said.

When Ms. Kim told her parents she had a boyfriend, and that he was not exactly a Christian, her father let go his reservations about joining social media. When Mr. Kim found his way to Mr. Moon, he figured out his daughter’s suitor was a fan of the metalcore band Ghost Iris.

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