Small businesses in Columbia have been facing increasingly difficult economic times according to Dave Shaw, owner of the local restaurant SakiTumi and Columbia advertising agency Flying Napkins. Competition with large corporations has increased recently with the large number of chain restaurants in the Columbia metropolitan area. In the midst of this difficult time for small business owners, Shaw felt the need to start a small business support group back in December, and created the Facebook page Support Local: Columbia.
“A lot of places are hurting because there's been an oversaturation of the market. There's too many restaurants and bars, and not enough people or income to support them. I think if people are going to go out in Columbia and spend their money, they should spend their money with businesses that give back to the city, to the community,” Shaw said.
Shaw further described the influence of small businesses in the community. He mentioned that many local restaurant owners are passionate about giving back to charities and to helping each other out, whereas many corporate chains oftentimes do not have an incentive to give back to small communities.
“Especially [in] certain areas of town like the Vista and Five Points, it just seems like it’s getting harder and harder as a small business owner. I think the difference that it makes, too, is that the small business owners are active in the community; we all know each other, we all support charities and nonprofits. It’s just a huge network of people who are constantly giving up money they could be making to help the community,” Shaw said. “And I don’t see that from the corporate chain restaurants."
Shaw also commented on the deep pockets of corporations that give them an advantage over small businesses, leaving local restaurants struggling to compete.
“They have huge investment firms and parent companies where they could not make money for six months or eight months and they’d be fine, and you just can’t do that if you’re a small independent business owner,” Shaw said.
The purpose of the Support Local: Columbia Facebook page is to raise awareness in the community about the existing small businesses, specifically local restaurants, and to encourage people to show their support for these businesses by inviting followers to visit a different restaurant each week.
Shaw mentioned that open-invitation networking nights on Tuesdays or Wednesdays will become a regular thing for the group, allowing people in the community and other small business owners to come out and show their support for whichever restaurant is chosen that week by dropping in for a drink or a bite to eat.
“Actually, to a lot of these small business owners an extra 15, 20, 25 people showing up one night and spending a little bit of money is just a huge difference, especially on a slower night of the week like a Tuesday or Wednesday,” Shaw commented.
The group offers great hope for the future of small businesses and has already seen a great response from the community by its rapid popularity and following on Facebook. Shaw encourages everyone to join, share and tell their friends about the page.
“If it gathers enough steam, then I could see this being a way in the future to announce charities, fundraising events, anything that gets the local community involved as it grows,” Shaw said.
Shaw also said that the Facebook page will be an excellent way to inform people about local businesses they haven’t heard of before and to raise awareness about the charity-focused vision of many small businesses.
“It will inform the public that a lot of [small businesses] do get involved with local charities because we don’t necessarily do those things and then walk around with billboards saying, 'Hey, look what we just did, aren’t we a good person or a good business?'” he said.
For example, SakiTumi did a fundraiser for a children’s shelter at the end of December and was able to write a check for $3,000, "a significant chunk of change for one small business owner."
Optimistically, Shaw sees hope for the future of small businesses due to the gradually change in mindset of our generation.
“Luckily though, I think the chain restaurants for a long time became extremely popular, and I feel like that’s kind of starting to take a downturn now, so I feel like a lot of people are shying away from these corporate chains and they want to go somewhere local," he said. "They don’t want the cookie-cutter.”