CHICAGO (CBS) — Illinois small businesses are adapting to delivery and online sales just to stay alive, but will customers even find them? Students at the University of Chicago have rushed to the challenge.
“We’ve lost 95% of our revenue,” said Jenny Duranski, owner of Lenarose Beauty.
Lenarose Beauty in Ravenswood is a non-essential business. Duranski is now scrambling to create a digital venue to sell whatever stock she can to stay afloat.
“There are still expenses coming in you can’t just shut off,” she said.
But her spa now has a new unexpected online presence. Shopinplacechi.com started guiding consumers to small businesses like hers struggling to operate just yesterday.
“I don’t know who started this but it’s a genius idea,” Duranski said.
“We knew small businesses would be struggling to connect with customers,” said University of Chicago Law Professor Beth Kregor.
Kregor and several law students created the project in about a week. Challenged small businesses are listed by category and mapped throughout the city. Consumers can suggest stores for the portal. Listings have grown from nine to more than 40 in just one day.
“The lifeblood of our business is the people who stop by and look in the window,” said David Trout with Savory Spice Shop.
Trout has a lung condition and is social distancing.
“We’ve gone from five employees down to one,” he said.
He said if the site gets even 50 people to just look at his products, it could keep him afloat.
“It’s always uplifting to see someone thinking of someone beyond themselves,” he said.
And small business owners need the support emotionally, too.
Duranski said she had to let go of 11 employees.
“That was the most heartbreaking part,” she said. “I love my business, but I love my people more. I refuse to give up without a damn good fight.”
But now people they never knew are supporting small businesses down the block or across the city, hoping to ease the struggle as we move forward.