The COVID-19 pandemic affected many businesses in our communities, but it hit small businesses and their owners particularly hard. In January, we launched our new small business grant program, facilitated by the Diversity Committee, the 77. This program was designed to provide relief for Chicago businesses who were heavily impacted by the pandemic. The first round of grants were designated for black-owned businesses in honor of Black History Month.
After collecting many competitive applications, three worthy businesses were selected and awarded a $1,000 grant during our Black History Month commemorative event on February 23. Meet these businesses and their owners below, and make sure to stop by, say hello and support them when you can!
As the name of the business suggests, Absolutely Anything Essential in the Douglas/Bronzeville neighborhood sells just about any essential item you may need, including e
xclusive local and global brands. Absolutely Anything Essential is owned by Chicago native Kenya Robertson-Reaves. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the shop closed temporarily, impacting the business’s bottom line – but true to its name, when food was scarce in many areas, Absolutely Anything Essential saw this as an opportunity to sell food to those who had trouble finding it.
The location also has an event and business space that can be rented out and is frequently used for classes where you can learn to make soap, candles, jewelry, design décor and more; many of these classes are hosted virtually as a result of the pandemic. Absolutely Anything Essential also has rentable co-working spaces.
“The same way you go to big box organizations to have products delivered to you… a small business in your own backyard can provide you services and products that are essentials in your day to day life,” Robertson-Reaves said. “If you shop big box, you can shop with us!”
Hyde Park’s Gilda Designer Thrift Boutique, owned by Gilda Norris, is a brick and mortar thrift store with a curation of trendy, vintage and resale women’s and men’s fashion, as well as home décor and art. Her merchandise is also available through Etsy, the online marketplace, and any unsold merchandise she donates to Kenwood United Church to help those in need.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Norris was forced to shut down for four months, only to reopen at limited capacity with strict guidelines, which took a toll on the business.
“I would like to thank your community for thinking of us — for thinking of the small businesses — because we are the people that keep the neighborhoods alive,” she said. “Your support…help[s] us do that.”
Male Mogul Initiative founder Walter Mendenhall IV realized there are many ambitious, intelligent young men with leadership qualities who are lacking opportunity and exposure. That’s where the Male Mogul Initiative comes in. They seek to provide marginalized youth with the resources they need to become successful, offering leadership and entrepreneurial training to youth in under-resourced communities.
Their program has three phases. “We go into Chicago Public Schools during the day, and we teach leadership development and mentoring for young men,” Mendenhall said. “We have an after-school program that helps young men take their ideas and make them into businesses, and [then] during the summer and fall, we provide jobs for these young men. Last year, we employed 24 young men…We have a holistic approach.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Male Mogul Initiative had to furlough some of their staff to make up for lost revenue.
“This [the grant] is just a small token of appreciation that you see what our young men are doing and
making a difference,” he said.
We will continue to support other Chicago-based, minority-owned small businesses who were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic throughout the year. Keep an eye out for our small business grant application announcements and share them with those in your community who qualify. Together, we will continue to uplift our communities and those who keep them thriving.