Businesses are struggling in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and few were hit harder than small, locally owned companies. To help entrepreneurs and small business owners recover, Hamilton star Leslie Odom Jr. partnered with Wells Fargo and its Open for Business Fund to bring awareness to their resilience and importance to local communities.
In addition to the fund’s $420 million small business recovery effort and grants, 84% of which supports “diverse-owned” businesses and nonprofit leaders, Wells Fargo produced the “We Made a Way” Summer Short Film Series. The films highlight the strength of racially and ethnically diverse small business owners around the country as they weathered the paralyzing economic challenges of the pandemic.
The twice Academy Award-nominated actor had a personal reason to partner with Wells Fargo on the project: he grew up in a family supported by small business. During Odom’s childhood, his father worked sales for a local company, and today his sister runs a small business in Philadelphia.
“All of us have those businesses in our neighborhood — the convenience store, the little restaurant, the cleaners — that truly mean a lot to us. We get to know them, they get to know our families. As a community, we’ve been doing our best to help them keep the doors open,” Odom told Money.
Keeping the doors open has been a bigger challenge than many expected. Many businesses turned to creative new technologies like delivery apps, e-commerce platforms and hosting virtual events, while some individuals took to investing in cryptocurrency, which helped many bounce back from financial disaster during the pandemic.
Still, Odom cautions against shining too bright a light on the benefits of technology for business owners. “I do hope that we don't lose all the ways in which we experienced community and feel community in literal ways, in proximity and in shared space," he said. "We've been forced into existences that can feel solitary. At the same time, technology can be the light at the end of the tunnel of darkness for some, creating opportunities for new businesses that wouldn't have existed before.”
Supporting independent businesses in your community has proven economic benefits. Nearly 50% of money spent at local businesses stays in the local economy, compared to only 14% of money spent at chain retailers, according to a report from Entrypoint.
To Odom, partnering with the Open for Business Fund is not just about supporting the economy, it’s about the people. When asked about the importance of community during the pandemic, he said, “I remember how remarkable it was to see families gathered around the picnic table and parents throwing the football in the middle of the street. We’ve never really seen neighborhoods quite so alive. Even though we were in a trying and difficult time, there was beauty. There always is. There always is.”