Small Businesses are the backbone of our economy. We hear this phrase often. However, it’s natural behavior too, that we often forget.

Durham, our beloved city of opportunities, culture and pride, is a place where we can flourish. In a city filled with such talent, everyone should have a chance to shoot their shot. Durham gave my wife and I a chance and now we’re committed to contributing to what makes Durham special. Zweli and I met in college here in Durham at NCCU, later got married, started a business and now we enjoy the smiling faces who come to dine at Zweli’s Kitchen, the staff who are dedicated to working hard to provide for their families, and the little piece of culture we add to our city.

Highlighting the importance of Small Businesses is to ensure we honor Durham’s risk takers, our entrepreneurs, our economy sustainers. There’s also a rich history of Black wealth and entrepreneurship. Durham was built on the backs on Black entrepreneurs. Part of what makes our city so unique is the diversity of deference to these facts. Today, Black businesses are failing faster than any other entity. When it came to PPP, 90% of Black and Brown businesses were left out. Initially, we were apart of that 90%, finding out on news outlets that the money ran dry.

Durham’s small businesses and small business owners are currently fighting adversity on all fronts. From the rising crime and larceny to lowering sales and shutdowns, we’ve become spectators of the reputation we helped to create and victims of economic vulnerability. We need our community to invest within. For every $100 spent at one of our businesses at least $45 is reinvested here, while only $14 stays here if that money is spent at a national chain.

In the restaurant world specifically, sales have dropped nearly 80% for many. Meanwhile, corporate franchises have seen significant upticks, overflowing their parking lots with cars wrapping around their buildings. For some, their customer volume has increased so much that there’s hardly anything fast about them being fast food anymore. At what cost do we sacrifice culture for convenience, losing what is locally grown, locally given? Third party delivery apps are taking upwards of 50% per transaction from restaurants in some cases and in addition still charging customers a delivery fee. The benefit of knowing the love invested into your dining experience has taken a backseat to the middleman intervention. The results of such an evolution has exposed the downsides of our capitalistic society. Price gouging from corporate companies on imperative necessities has increased by nearly 70% in some cases. Most importantly, PPE (personal protection equipment) is a must have for staff working in these essential businesses and yet, the purchase of such items is becoming a tax nearing the point of not being affordable. However, if any city can bounce back, I believe we can in Durham.

Small Businesses are the most vital components to recovering our country to normalcy and then prosperity. Our contributions are endless to our communities. We bring authenticity to culture, provide jobs, provide opportunities from a teenager’s first work experience to career-lasting retirement. We provide diversity to the character of every city, town, suburb in every state and territory. We provide that quiet space for the college scholar, the event space for the celebrations and family memories. We provide healthcare or healthcare assistance for our employees.

We’re fortunate to have such a supply chain of talented, skilled risk takers to make up our local small business community here Durham. We were also fortunate to successfully lobby our local government to partake in a public-private partnership to avail $3 million dollars in loan and grant opportunities for small businesses in general. Fact is, with the thousands of small businesses who call Durham home, those funds were unfortunately inaccessible to some and evaporated quickly for others. However, if we do not act now as a local community to generate a second, more sustainable wave of support, Durham’s culture will be redefined; not by Durhamites, but by outside developers and corporate entities.

Here are a few initiatives to follow to support local:

Durham Delivers — Durham Delivers was created out of the need to help local restaurants whose dining rooms were shuttered due to COVID-19, get their food to customers. By grouping orders at one location and time, while eliminating hefty service fees levied by popular delivery apps, Durham Delivers provides a financially viable option for independent restaurants, while adding new delivery options for customers.

The Shop Durham Program — The program was designed to reward you for shopping locally, but it’s so much more than that. When you use your Shop Durham card, you are stimulating our local economy by keeping your dollars in Durham- which creates jobs & embraces what makes Durham unique.

The Streetery — Durham has opened multiple streets in the center of downtown to pedestrian traffic with festive lights, music and performers sprinkled throughout. The Streetery is live on Friday and Saturday evenings from 5pm to 9:30pm, September 18 — December 19 to shop, carry out, dine in or dine out. It’s a way of welcoming folks to a safer, socially distanced, outdoor downtown experience.

Let’s keep Durham local and defined by the culture we’ve collectively built to what it is today. Finally, I hope to establish a robust fundraising campaign to assist small businesses who are experiencing severe distress and need a helping hand. This is an opportune time for our community to define our own return on investment. Keep it local. Keep it Durham. Let’s choose culture, over convenience.

Leonardo Williams
Author: Leonardo Williams

A Serial Entrepreneur based in Durham, NC — Cofounder of Bank Black Durham — Restauranteur — Educator — Small Biz Advocate