Small LGBTQ businesses in Charlotte struggle during COVID-19 pandemic

Small businesses and nonprofits can find support and resources in Charlotte

by Crystal O’Gorman (she/her) | Contributing Writer

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As coronavirus cases climb, small LGBTQ-owned businesses in Charlotte struggle to survive.

“We’re in emergency mode,” says Chad Turner (he/him), president of Charlotte’s LGBT Chamber of Commerce.

According to Turner, the LGBT Chamber of Commerce decided early on that this was their opportunity to give back to the businesses that support them. They’ve extended memberships for sixth months, moved to virtual events, and focused all their efforts on helping all small businesses navigate these novel circumstances.

They’ve built an alliance with other business organizations such as Latin American Chamber of Commerce, Carolinas Asian-American Chamber of Commerce and Charlotte Mecklenburg Black Chamber of Commerce to push for legislation and support for local small business owners.

Some recent wins were ABC buybacks for bars and restaurants, urgency for city and state mandated holds on evictions for small business lease holders and communicating with unemployment administration in support of business owners.

As an organization, the LGBT Chamber of Commerce has created supportive resources to help businesses manage financial challenges. They’ve developed a website chocked full of information on unemployment, SBA loans, and other local loans and grants.

They’ve also created a hotline where small business owners are connected directly to chamber members who are ready and willing to walk them through the process of applying for unemployment and loans, or advocating on their behalf on a city, county and state level.

Turner said they’re getting anywhere from 60-100 calls per day. He said he’s heard many heartbreaking stories. A business owner who had to choose between laying off employees and saving his family’s home. An established business owner hospitalized with suicidal thoughts due to the loss of his life’s work. While he cautioned that they’re not able to give mental health, legal, or financial advice, they are able to support them in finding the resources they need to keep going.

To put it into perspective Turner said there are over 38,000 business in the Charlotte-Metro area and over 30,000 are small businesses with under 50 employees where 92 percent of the population are employed. He said these businesses are the last to receive support and they’re the bulk of our economy.

Dianna Ward (she/her), an LGBT Chamber member and small business owner of Charlotte NC Tours and Charlotte B-Cycle created a Facebook page called Small Businesses affected by COVID19. This is a private group, but any small business owners can join – whether it’s an LGBTQ-owned business or not.

Turner said they believe in equitable opportunities for all small business owners and this Facebook page is a response to the lack of available resources for everyone.

Ward, who opened Charlotte NC Tours during the last recession said she learned a lot from that experience to prepare her for this one. “We’re blessed to be in a position to ride this thing out,” she said. The most important part of this has been making sure her employees are doing okay.

She believes business leaders can be a great source of strength and comfort to their employees. While part of this is working with resources such as applying for SBA paycheck protection loans – also known as PPP – to help keep their employees on the payroll, it’s also about human connection. “These aren’t just people who show up to help you make money; they’re our friends and family,” she said. “Let them know you care and we’re in this together.”

“It’s going to be a lot more expensive to pull people out of poverty and start over versus sustaining them,” said Turner. “We’re going to do everything we can to help small businesses survive during this time.”

Resources for small businesses and nonprofits

If you’re a small business owner, here are some tips from Chad Turner and Dianna Ward on how to face these economic challenges.

  1. Visit SupportCLT.com for the latest updates and economic resource guides.
  2. Apply for SBA loans now (Even if your business is still open and making some profits.) Turner said there’s no evidence of how long this opportunity will be available, so take advantage of it now.
  3. Use the resources on SupportCLT to decide which SBA loans best meet your needs. There are several loans, but the most popular ones are the Small Business Administration Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) and Payroll Protection Loans (PPP). Turner said the EIDL is the best loan because the verification process is faster, and you have the option to receive a $10,000 grant within 3-5 days after the application is accepted.
  4. Apply for unemployment at odd hours such as 3am. The system is being inundated with applicants, so submit your application when there’s less traffic. Turner said that even small business owners can apply for unemployment, along with other worker categories like contractors and gig economy workers who are normally ineligible.
  5. Negotiate for deferred payments on bills where you can and be strategic on how you use the grant/loan money. Ward said negotiate utility costs and leases and keep the money for paying staff and significant operational costs.
  6. Call the LGBT Chamber of Commerce hotline for support. The number is 704-837-4050. It doesn’t matter if you’re not a member, they’re available to support you with all questions and concerns.
  7. Join the Facebook page Small Businesses affected by COVD19 to share resources and support with others.
  8. Support LGBTQ and ally small businesses and nonprofits! The LGBT Chamber of Commerce developed a directory of LGBTQ small businesses and nonprofits in greater Charlotte area with information on how you can support them. Visit SpendLGBT.com to find out how you can support these businesses and organizations.

Featured Photo: A message of hope written on the window of Midnight Diner in South End, captured by Dianna Ward during a cycling trip around the city.


ABOUT THE WRITER

Crystal O’Gorman (she/her) is a freelance journalist living in Indian Land, S.C. She’s an LGBTQ ally and writes for various publications in North Carolina and South Carolina. She believes storytelling is an important way to connect people, grow introspectively, and provide an opportunity to create equality when so many voices are silenced by dominant discourses. She’s also studying to become a marriage and family therapist. Got a story you want to share? Contact her at crystalogormanwrites@gmail.com.


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