Op-ed: Small business owners require support to navigate the post-pandemic economy

Photo courtesy of Bella Lulu’s

In June 2022, my husband and I opened our restaurant, Bella Lulu’s, amidst the aftermath of the pandemic. With my husband leading in the kitchen, I tackled the challenges of running the business. The hurdles were daunting: COVID still loomed, prices soared and the market remained unforgiving. Yet, driven by our passion for serving the community, we refused to give up. While things are still a bit tough, with the support of others we found ways to navigate the storm, from grants to networking opportunities.

Photo courtesy of Bella Lulu’s

We are proud to be one of the small business success stories driving New York City’s economic recovery. In neighborhoods across the city, you see entrepreneurs creating jobs. There are now a record number of jobs in the five boroughs, and we have regained all of the jobs lost during the pandemic. And entrepreneurship is thriving – one in seven businesses were started in the past year, a rate four times higher than the 2019 average.

This progress is not only a testament to the hard work, creativity and resiliency of our small business community – it shows what is possible when stakeholders come together, and investment in programs that support small business owners.

In the fall of 2020, when many wondered how we would dig our way out of the mess of the pandemic, the five boroughwide chambers of commerce came together to launch the Small Business Resource Network (SBRN). This innovative program offers free, one-on-one guidance and support to help businesses grow and thrive. To date, SBRN has reached close to 50,000 businesses, providing direct support to over 13,000. And over three quarters of businesses served have been minority and women-owned businesses.

Funding from the City allows Business Support Specialists embedded within each of the five chambers of commerce to work individually with small business owners. These specialists are experts in helping small businesses access a range of services offered by the city, state and federal government, as well as the private sector, including grants and loans, connections to legal counsel, business coaching, marketing guidance, technology support and more. This is even more crucial in neighborhoods that aren’t served by Business Improvement Districts.

It was through a meeting with one of these Business Support Specialists that I began learning about available resources. My specialist from the Queens Chamber of Commerce guided me through applications for various grants and, with his help, I secured a $5,000 Citizens United Grant, which proved crucial to maintaining stability amidst a slow market period. This support is so important to me. I keep in continuous contact with my specialist and even share his information with other businesses that may be going through tough times. Small business owners truly need this type of support to survive.

We all need a little help. By continuing to invest in programs like the SBRN, the City is making an investment in small businesses and entrepreneurs like me, which allows us to continue to drive New York City’s economic recovery.

Karen Calle is the Catering Manager of Bella Lulu’s, located at 90-40 160th St. inside Jamaica Market in Jamaica, Queens.