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Op-Ed | Congress and the internet have saved NYC small businesses

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Small business owners in NYC are fortunate to be served by powerful Members of Congress: Chuck Schumer in the Senate and Hakeem Jeffries, Jerry Nadler, and Nydia Velazquez in the House. The recent Covid relief package that they spearheaded has helped New York City support public transportation, small companies, schools and the many New Yorkers who are hurting.

PPP Funds have enabled millions of American small businesses avoid collapse. The funds absolutely helped my NYC company from shutting down. Additionally, we managed to stay afloat because of the opportunities large online platforms provide for small businesses such as my bakery. I know from experience that by working with large digital platforms, it is easier to find new customers than ever before. We have a national business now. If it were the 1990’s, we would merely be a neighborhood favorite bakery. 

I opened a business in 1991, selling my brownies to one store in NYC with one recipe. Customers came from foot traffic, flyers put underneath windshield wipers and word-of-mouth. In 1998, we opened our own store inside Chelsea Market and gave out samples to generate business. We relied entirely on sales to locals.  

In 2002, we recognized the power of the Internet. We started with Google Ads and immediately reached more “new” customers than we imagined was possible. Our e-commerce quickly matched what we could sell locally. This might seem routine today, but 19 years ago it was amazing. We are able to use data to know which ads work best, which means more sales for our bakery and more tax dollars sent to NYC, NYS and DC. 

Twenty-three years later we have developed more than 40 recipes, had two cookbooks published, and expanded to Japan. My once-tiny bakery, though currently experiencing severe losses on in-store sales, is now competing online against national bakeries and New York icons such as Entenmann’s. We can also sell on Amazon, Etsy and eBay. 

Google and other “Big Tech” companies allow us affordable marketing tools to be able to compete during difficult times. Other platforms such as Facebook, Yelp, Twitter and Instagram help promote our brand and our brownies to potential customers. There is no question of tough times: retail shops shutting down, employees laid off and personal emotional seesaws. Our online business doubled in 2020 and we are grateful. Without our technology partners, we would certainly be out of business. 

Not every business owner is comfortable taking the e-commerce plunge. I get it! We are hoping Congress and New York City will fund educational programs to help more small businesses get online to be able to sell beyond their local base. Let’s get stronger during this pandemic to work on future economic crises. Let’s create an opportunity of expansion. As a small business owner, I am more than willing to participate by encouraging others to expand horizons for NYC.

It is more evident than ever that New York City is made up of neighborhoods. Many of us focus on shopping at local businesses. However, we are also shopping online from close by shops and those far away. That’s reality.

During these hard times, some online brands from NYC such as Zabar’s are booming with business. Even little shops like CatbirdNYC are doing well because they are strong online. New Yorkers are lucky to have strong digital partners with a local presence, as well as strong Members of Congress. I believe that with both we can build a stronger economy for now and the future.

Patricia Helding is the Founder of Fat Witch Bakery in New York City, and a member of the Connected Commerce Council.

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