The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us how vital and vulnerable America’s small businesses are. But, thankfully, small changes in how and where we buy merchandise can boost entrepreneurship across Arkansas – and across the country. It means we all have the power to help small businesses grow.
I know this firsthand as the owner of a non-profit bakery in Fayetteville that provides vocational training for young people with autism. I see him more broadly as a defender of the right to national non-profit start-ups, which makes entrepreneurship a community priority.
Most small businesses have suffered greatly amid COVID-19. Many have closed for good, and others of us have had to make major adjustments to the way we operate. This is not just a problem for owners and employees; it is a major challenge for our communities and our nation.
Nationally, start-ups create virtually all of America’s job growth, so job growth depends not only on reopening businesses, but also creating new ones. Locally, small businesses provide a distinctive character to our downtown areas. They are what make our cities special, provide us with fun gathering places, and showcase our talents and passions.
As our country emerges from the pandemic, it may appear that small businesses are doing better. But in many ways this fall is more difficult than last fall. Federal funding for short-term recovery is long gone; supply chains have broken down and labor shortages are common. Supporting small businesses is therefore more vital than ever, and simple actions can make a huge difference.
In our nonprofit bakery, our business and restaurant orders declined significantly as company employees worked remotely and restaurants closed or downsized. To fulfill our professional training mission, the individual purchases of our breads are crucial – around 20% of total turnover in very difficult times – and the value of these purchases could not be clearer.
Earlier this month, our bakery celebrated the promotion of two of our students to managerial positions. For the first time in our history, autistic students will be managing key aspects of our operations. Camryn Cook has become the Bakery Manager, responsible for creating the weekly bread flavors, managing customer interactions and supporting day-to-day operations. Joaquin Martinez became production manager, responsible for wholesale orders, production of bakery products for retail and wholesale, management of paid and volunteer work and coordination of deliveries.
It wouldn’t have happened without the Arkansans buying our bread, either one at a time or in bulk. All supported our mission and received spectacular bread in return, but there is an important lesson for everyone. Even simple acts, like buying a loaf of bread, can be life changing.
It’s something I see every day as I speak with small business owners across Northwest Arkansas on behalf of Right to Start. Every small business that retails depends on individual customers, whether they buy online, in person, or with curbside pickup. Individuals determine which businesses will survive and which will expand.
As we approach the holiday shopping season – with Black Friday and Small Business Saturday kicking off later this month – I hope every Arkansan pays special attention to shopping not only in their community but in the small enterprises.
There is power in the simple act of buying a loaf of bread – or a cup of coffee or an ice cream cone. Each purchase of a small business is an act of support, of sustenance, of commitment.
Camryn Cook and Joaquin Martinez know the power of a loaf of bread. It changed their lives forever.
Editor’s Note: Daymara Baker is the owner of Rockin ‘Baker, based in Fayetteville, a bread supplier for several local food establishments. The opinions expressed are those of the author.