Since the pandemic began, a staggering number of small businesses have permanently closed across the country. In fact, roughly 200,000 U.S. businesses have closed in the first year of the pandemic, according to a study released recently by economists at the Federal Reserve. Despite the millions of dollars of federal and local aid made available in the form of loans and grants, many small businesses had to think creatively to stay afloat. Many of these small businesses leveraged their own identity and community as sources of inspiration -including the LBGTQ community.
As we celebrate our LGBTQ identity and community, we must acknowledge that many LGBTQ entrepreneurs are still reeling from the effects of the pandemic and that, now more than ever, a strong community is needed to help rebuild these businesses and create a more inclusive economy. At Next Street, I’m proud to be part of a mission-based firm where I can focus on uplifting members of my LGBTQ community. I wanted to take this opportunity to share some successful approaches that LGBTQ-owned small businesses in our network adopted to pivot and sustain their businesses during the pandemic. By harnessing the power of their community and prioritizing their core business offering and identity, the following LGBTQ-owned businesses were able to come out of the pandemic stronger than ever.
Cubbyhole, a small but mighty bar located in the iconic West Village neighborhood of New York City, has been open to the queer community for more than 27 years. Despite crises, such as 9/11, 2003 blackout, and Hurricane Sandy, the bar was forced to close its doors for the first time ever on March 16, 2020. Given the 100% loss of income for the bar and its staff, Cubbyhole launched a Go Fund Me campaign to secure financial support from its legion of fans and faithfuls. In just a few weeks it had well surpassed its $30,000 fundraising goal and at the time of this writing has raised $78,432. In addition, the bar also banded together with the country’s other 15 lesbian bars for the Lesbian Bar Project, which collectively raised additional funds that enabled the bar to keep its doors open.
Ciao Andiamo, a boutique travel company organizing authentic journeys to Italy, has been in operation for more than 10 years. On March 9, 2020, the government of Italy imposed a national lockdown, which prevented residents from leaving their homes and tourists from entering the country. With no line of sight into when borders would reopen, Ciao Andiamo had to quickly figure out a way to generate revenue and stay engaged with its clients and collaborators. The owner, together with his partners in Italy, made a major pivot, launching two new offerings — a virtual classroom featuring interactive cooking classes, wine tastings, and language lessons, as well as a marketplace for authentic Italian foods, small production wines, and local goods shipped directly from Italy to the U.S. This paved the way for Ciao Andiamo to keep in close touch with its loyal fan base and build awareness and excitement around all things Italy at a time when Italy travel was not possible. Now, as the country is reopening for international tourism, Ciao Andiamo has not only survived, it is in prime position for a strong 2021 season.
Finally, Lambda Lounge began as a spirits brand that sold its products online. In fall 2020, the company had plans to open a brick and mortar lounge in Harlem. When the pandemic struck, Lambda was forced to pause its plan to open the lounge despite having made significant investments in rent and construction. To sustain itself, Lambda shifted its focus from the lounge and refocused its effort on its core business, its spirits brand. Lambda once again began prioritizing its online platform and existing customer base. They quickly found this to be the key to short- and long-term success in the midst of the pandemic. In fact, they were so successful in generating revenue for their business that they were able to see their dream of opening the bar and lounge in spring 2021.
Like so many other small business owners, these LGBT entrepreneurs used the most powerful tool in their arsenal — their identity and community. Each of them leveraged their personal connections to their customers to help them sustain their business and face the challenges the pandemic threw their way. This Pride month and beyond, shop at your local LGBTQ-owned business and become part of the community that can help build a more inclusive and successful economy.