This year has been incredibly challenging for small-business owners, especially for those on the east side of the city like us. Last winter, when the pandemic began and shutdowns and shortages soon followed, we kept our doors open so we could provide essentials to our neighbors who needed it the most. In Wards 7 and 8, where large grocery stores are far and few between, stores like ours went from places to stop for a snack and a drink, to being lifelines for our community.
Thankfully neither of us had to shut our businesses down, but we are making hard sacrifices. Whether it means product cuts or costly layout changes to accommodate social distancing, we are doing whatever it takes to stay open and serve our community. We’ve even learned to navigate and embrace online ordering and delivery systems, to continue to take care of our neighbors and customers who can’t risk in-person visits.
We adapted, always adjusting our practices in response to the city’s guidelines. Even as our profit margins are suffering, our priority is to protect our employees and our customers so we can all return to normal someday.
Now, just as we are starting to find our footing, there’s growing concern about a likely rise in COVID-19 cases that will impact businesses and residents alike. Black-owned small businesses are particularly vulnerable and almost twice as likely to fail. For businesses like ours, we have reason to be anxious, but also reason to be hopeful.
Last spring, we were there for our communities when the pandemic first hit, just as DC leadership was there for us. We are confident that city leaders will again stand with DC’s small businesses as we anticipate another wave of the virus in the weeks ahead.
We are more than a store to our customers. For those who can’t travel far or at all, local neighborhood stores are often the only option. And possibly the safest too, since we can personally ensure that we always use protective measures such as hand sanitizer and masks. And for some, we are also the most personal connection. For instance, we let our elderly customers know when the lockdown began that we could deliver to them.
In Wards 7 and 8, a small business closing is more than a store shuttering. It means a whole neighborhood and all the families living there might lose their access to daily necessities. We know that the city’s leaders recognize how essential we are to our communities.
We appreciate the actions the DC government has taken to help businesses across the city keep their doors open. And we ask that the city’s leadership continue that support during the winter months, understanding the unique economic hurdles we face as small-business owners east of the river. We need to stay open so we can continue to provide for our neighbors and friends.
Local businesses like ours are the heart and soul of DC. We’re a resilient city with resilient people. If we work together, we will all come out on the other side stronger than ever.
Daweit “Lil G” Gebru owns Elmira Market in Ward 8 and Caple Green owns Eclectic Cafe in Ward 7. Both are members of the Alliance for an Affordable DC, a coalition made up of 400 businesses serving all eight wards who are united around issues impacting DC’s small business community and working families.