The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us how vital and vulnerable America’s small businesses are. But, fortunately, small changes in how and where we buy goods can energize entrepreneurship throughout Arkansas – and the nation. That means that we all have the power to help small businesses grow.
I know this first-hand as the owner of a nonprofit bakery in Fayetteville that provides job training to youth on the autism spectrum. I see it more broadly as an advocate for national nonprofit Right to Start, which champions entrepreneurship as a community priority.
Most small businesses have struggled greatly amid COVID-19. Many have closed permanently, and others of us have had to make major adjustments in how we operate. That’s not just a problem for owners and employees; it’s a core challenge to our communities and our nation.
Nationally, young businesses create virtually all job growth in America, so employment growth depends not only on reopening businesses but on creating new ones. Locally, small businesses provide distinctiveness to our downtowns. They are what make our towns special, give us entertaining places to gather, and demonstrate our talents and passions.
As our nation emerges from the pandemic, it may seem that small businesses are doing better. But in many ways this Fall is harder than last Fall. The federal short-term recovery funding is long gone; supply chains have broken, and labor shortages are common. That makes it more vital than ever to support small businesses, and simple acts can make an enormous difference.
At our nonprofit bakery, our corporate and restaurant orders have shrunk greatly, because corporate employees have been working remotely, and restaurants have closed or scaled back. To fulfill our job-training mission, individual purchases of our breads are crucial – about 20% of total revenue in very challenging times – and the value of those purchases could not be clearer.
Early this month our bakery celebrated the promotion of two of our students to managerial roles. For the first time in our history, students with autism will manage key aspects of our operations. Camryn Cook became 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, producing baked goods for retail and wholesale, managing paid and volunteer labor, and coordinating delivery.
That would not have happened without Arkansans buying our bread, either one at a time or in bulk. All supported our mission and got spectacular bread in return, but there is an important lesson in that for everyone. Even simple acts, like buying a loaf of bread, can be life-changing.
That’s something that I see every day, as I talk with small business owners throughout Northwest Arkansas on behalf of Right to Start. Every small business that sells retail depends on individual customers, whether they are buying online, in person, or with curbside pickup. Individuals determine what businesses will survive and which ones will grow.
As we approach the holiday shopping season – with Black Friday and Small Business Saturday kicking it off later this month – I hope that every Arkansan will give special consideration to shopping not only in their communities but at small businesses.
There is power in the simple act of buying a loaf of bread – or a cup of coffee or an ice cream cone. Every purchase from 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 has changed their lives forever.
Editor’s note: Daymara Baker is the owner of Fayetteville-based Rockin’ Baker, a bread supplier for several local food establishments. The opinions expressed are those of the author.