Small Business | St. Louis Public Radio

Small Business

Drake's Place restaurant's sous-chef, Deundrake Lewis Jr. May 27, 2020
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

After years of ups and downs, Drake's Place in Ferguson was beginning to turn a profit in recent months, thanks to the many customers who kept coming back for its savory shrimp, potatoes and green beans. But when St. Louis County issued stay-at-home orders to stop the coronavirus from spreading, owner Bridgett Lewis had to cease dine-in services. 

That brought back bitter memories for Lewis. Six years ago, she had to limit the restaurant's hours after a police officer killed Michael Brown Jr., sparking chaos. But even that didn't prepare her for the hit her business has taken during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Some days are pretty sad, very sad,” Lewis said recently. “Like yesterday we made $300. You can’t live off [that] and run a restaurant.” 

Sarah Young reopened her salon in Creve Coeur this week, but customers at Sola Salon must come in one at a time and follow strict safety rules, including wearing a mask and having their temperature taken. Week of 5/22/20
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

Sarah Young’s salon in Creve Coeur sat empty for almost two months. But this week, after stay-at-home orders were lifted, she reopened her booth at Sola Salon with back-to-back appointments.

Young is eager to see her regular customers again, but business is far from normal. 

Clients are required to follow new safety protocols. That includes sending a text upon arrival and waiting in the car until Young is done sanitizing. Only one client is allowed inside at a time, and they must wear a mask, have their temperature taken and sanitize their hands.

St. Louis-area businesses remain closed as the coronavirus pandemic drags on. Weeks of reduced income, or none at all, has stretched small businesses thin.
Nat Thomas | St. Louis Public Radio

As the economic toll of the coronavirus pandemic worsens, small businesses throughout the region — and across the country — are struggling to stay afloat. Some have been out of business for weeks, while others have scraped by on reduced revenue. 

While Missouri lifted its statewide stay-at-home order this week, St. Louis regional leaders won't start reopening the local economy until May 18.

Jerome Katz, head professor of entrepreneurship at St. Louis University’s Chaifetz School of Business, said the small business landscape will look much different when things reopen. 

Taken on 4-22-20 amid local stay at home order
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

A local small-business loan program plans to distribute $2.3 million to businesses in St. Louis and St. Louis County that are struggling to stay afloat during the coronavirus outbreak.

So far, it’s funded nearly 200 zero-interest loans of $5,000 for local businesses, and hundreds are still on the waiting list.

Indigo Massage & Wellness is among the businesses that closed to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Pictured April 3, 2020.
Kae Petrin | St. Louis Public Radio

Unemployment claims began skyrocketing in Missouri and Illinois in mid-March following orders from state and county leaders that have restricted movement and business operations, and new state data show that that trend has continued to accelerate.

Last week, about 104,000 people filed unemployment claims in Missouri and 178,000 in Illinois — a steep increase in both states from the prior week. Nationally, more than 5.8 million Americans filed for unemployment last week, the largest number on record.

Despite those dramatic jumps, economists at Washington University and the St. Louis Federal Reserve say the economy could recover swiftly after the worst of the coronavirus pandemic subsides and businesses start to reopen.

Provided | EyeSeeMe

Justine Petersen, a leading microlender in the region, hopes a $200,000 investment from JPMorgan Chase will help minority-owned small businesses north of Delmar.

The investment will continue to assist the local nonprofit in its efforts to help those small-business owners with credit-building resources, as well as provide access to safe and affordable loans.

Sarah Schlafly, co-founder of Mighty Cricket, measures cricket powder on March 14, 2019 for a batch of dark cocoa oatmeal at Urban Eats Cafe.
Shahla Farzan | St. Louis Public Radio

Sarah Schlafly isn’t squeamish when it comes to eating insects.

For her, crickets are just “land shrimp.”

The St. Louis-based entrepreneur co-founded Mighty Cricket in 2017, a startup that produces breakfast foods with an unusual addition: crickets. The company now sells several products at local grocery stores and online, including pancake mix, oatmeal and protein powder — all made with powdered, roasted crickets.

Jas Thomas of Girls With Goals (left) is the lead organizer of Saturday's Black Business Expo in St. Louis.
Jas Thomas | Girls With Goals

A St. Louis woman saw a need: Black business owners struggling to connect with potential customers. So, she decided to do something about it. Jas Thomas and her organization, Girls With Goals, established the Black Business Expo, which is being held Saturday at Legacy Cafe in St. Louis.

Thomas says the goal of the event is to promote local black-owned businesses among consumers who might not be aware of them.

Entrepreneur and author Rebecca Clark started a company to self-publish her children's book series.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Despite shrinking income and education gaps between white and non-white families, black families in the United States still trail others in wealth accumulation, economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis said in a recent report.

Although black wealth increased at a faster rate than white wealth in 2016, blacks still owned less than 10 percent of whites’ wealth, according to the Fed.

Some black women entrepreneurs in St. Louis see starting their own businesses as an avenue to closing the wealth gap within their families and communities.

St. Louis store owners (from left) Vincent Hromadka, Maddie Earnest and Chris Goodson are each familiar with the challenges - and the joys - of running a smaller grocery store in the city.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

The small Soulard grocery store that Vincent Hromadka’s grandfather first opened in 1912, shortly after emigrating from Bohemia, has seen its share of challenges over the past century.

From dealing with an influx of much larger competitors, to moving locations in order to make way for a highway, to maintaining customer loyalty, it’s a substantive list of struggles to overcome. But Hromadka also has many reasons for continuing his grandfather’s legacy – and for why their now-106-year-old family business has persisted as long as it has.

“I enjoy what I do,” he told St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh on Tuesday. “My two sons work for me full time, and I’ve got a third son who also comes in, and we try to communicate with our customers and supply them with their needs – if they need something special and we can get it, we will do it.”

Before and after its facelift: Milque Toast Bar, 2212 S. Jefferson Ave., received a Community Development Block Grant to improve its facade.
provided | Neighborhood Commercial District Improvement Program

Leonard Johnson admits many run-down storefronts in St. Louis could use a facelift. He’d like to help “polish up” each and every one. But, for now, the director of the Neighborhood Commercial District Improvement Program only has a $1-million Community Development Block Grant to improve small-business facades. So, he plans to “spread the love” to businesses in the most underserved areas of the city.

“We understand that development happens downtown and in the central corridor,” Johnson said. “And it rarely spreads into north St. Louis or north city and even deeper in south city. We want to address that and be intentional about that, because that’s where our program had some shortcomings before.”

Tony and Jack Erker are fifth-generation opticians who are challenging online vendors with a brick-and-mortar experience where customers can watch frames being made in a mini factory. June 2018
Melody Walker|St. Louis Public Radio

Brothers Jack and Tony Erker did not want to go into the family optical business.

They spent years pursuing other careers to take them far from the shop at Sixth and Olive streets in downtown St. Louis, where it all started in 1879. But it’s hard to resist five generations of history, not to mention the entrepreneurial DNA embedded in their genes.

This spring Jack and Tony opened Copper Hinge, a brick-and-mortar optical shop in the Delmar Loop.    The brothers envisioned a new way to sell eyeglasses, one that’s not available online or in other stores.

Exterior of Nebula Coworking.

Updated May 9 at 11 p.m. with comment from Sen. Claire McCaskill  — Last year, the Federal Communications Commission voted to repeal net neutrality, a set of regulations intended to protect internet users. Now, leaders of eight St. Louis co-working spaces are calling on Missouri congressional lawmakers to join national efforts that could reverse the commission’s decision.

Their call came Wednesday as U.S. Sen. Ed. Markey, D-Mass., filed a petition that would force the U.S. Senate to vote on the future of net neutrality. The 2015 regulations bar internet providers from controlling internet speeds, among other things. The Senate must vote by June 12 on whether to allow or block the FCC’s repeal.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner met with business owners in Edwardsville, Illinois on January 16.
Kae Petrin | St. Louis Public Radio / St. Louis Public Radio

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner pledged Tuesday to help small business owners by addressing “punishing” high property taxes and “too many” regulations.

Calling taxes and regulations burdens that drive small businesses to the neighboring states of Missouri and Indiana, Rauner said he wants to curtail them to bring businesses back.

“Every challenge we face in Illinois could be overcome if we have faster economic growth,” Rauner said after speaking to business owners in Edwardsville.

The Evening Whirl bills itself as St. Louis' uninterrupted crime-fighting publication for over 79 years.
Maria Altman | St. Louis Public Radio

For nearly 80 years The St. Louis Evening Whirl has been reporting on crime in a way other news outlets wouldn’t, or couldn’t, do.

The weekly is sold in gas stations, convenience stores and by subscription for $1.50. Readers will find plenty of crime stories told in a distinct style, filled with slang and nicknames. Recent headlines have included “Prosecutor Seeks ‘Big Needle’ in Slaying of Pregnant Teacher” and “D-Boy Throws Bomb at Cops During Getaway.”

The city of St. Clair, Missouri, is issuing permits to help keep some order when it comes to parking as thousands arrive for the eclipse.
Wayne Pratt | St. Louis Public Radio

Jason Alexander's family has owned the Budget Lodging Hotel in St. Clair, Missouri, for nearly three decades. During that time, only one event has sparked a customer to book a room years in advance.

Calvin Payne, 44, stands in his newly leased space for CQ Custom Designs in the Grove neighborhood.  11/18/16
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Weaving between an ensemble of printers and T-shirt presses kept in the back of a tattoo parlor, Calvin Payne fills custom orders from all over the country.

“These shirts are going to Tupelo, Mississippi. And those other shirts are going to Millington, Tennessee,” Payne said, pointing to packages sitting on the counter. “I do a lot of breast cancer awareness shirts… and these are my favorite, because I know that they go for a good cause.”

Payne started his printing business while working as a server at Sweetie Pie’s restaurant in the Grove neighborhood, buying equipment with his savings and learning how to use it with tutorials on YouTube. This month, the 44-year-old entrepreneur is moving CQ Custom Designs into his own storefront for the first time.

Alderman Scott Ogilvie, D-24th Ward, is also on board with the business licensing streamline effort.
Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio

Small business owners in St. Louis who work exclusively out of their homes will get some relief from regulations under a measure expected to pass the Board of Aldermen on Friday.

The Fashions R Boutique was one of 13 businesses in Dellwood that burned down during Monday's riots following the announcement of the Darren Wilson grand jury decision.
Stephanie Lecci | St. Louis Public Radio


Echoing the mayor of neighboring city Ferguson, the mayor of Dellwood is adding his voice to the criticism of Gov. Jay Nixon and demanding answers in the aftermath of Monday's riots.

Mayor Reggie Jones said Dellwood was promised its business district would be protected by National Guard troopers, but he said "they failed to arrive."

While Ferguson has "gotten more attention," Jones said, his city saw the most damage and he wants to make sure his city also gets the resources it needs to recover. 

(Courtesy Square Inc.)

One of the hurdles small businesses face is the potential loss of a sale if they don't have the infrastructure in place to accept credit card and debit card payments.

St. Louis native Jack Dorsey, CEO of Square Inc., a mobile payments device company, makes that hurdle easier to jump but he says the company has more to offer than concrete tools of the trade.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 6, 2013 - From the Tuesday morning Twitter feed of Tommy Sowers, assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, we gleaned the following facts:

  • Veteran-owned small businesses employ more than 1.8 million workers and bring in $1.6 trillion in revenue.
  • Of the 26 million small businesses in the U.S., 3.6 million are owned by veterans.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 18, 2013 - As St. Louis counts down to participation in National Small Business Week, Dennis Melton, director of the local Small Business Administration office in town, feels the area’s economy is looking brighter for the little guy.

“My take on the local climate is that it is on the rise,” he said. “There is an awful lot going on that hasn’t in the past. It’s probably the best time ever to be an entrepreneur.”

(via Flickr/pasa47)

The owner of Vintage Vinyl in St. Louis was one of 15 small business owners who met with President Obama today.

Lew Prince is a member of Business for Shared Prosperity, an organization that is pushing Congress to end the Bush-era tax cuts for the top two percent.

Prince says the meeting at the White House this afternoon was unusual because no one was asking for anything for themselves.

Tim Lloyd / St. Louis Public Radio

The Third Degree Glass Factory is loaded this weekend with everything from quirky t-shirts to handmade jewelry.

Jessi Cerutti is an organizer for the Rock n’ Roll Craft Show and stands in the back of the room while a band tunes up before serenading shoppers. 

She says they felt the impact of the sluggish economy for a couple of years, but attendance for the annual event, now in its ninth year, has steadily grown.   

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 25, 2012 - Amid the back-and-forth over what President Barack Obama said or meant with his “You didn’t build that” remark, Cathy Bononi of Webster Groves says the key point is that small business owners feel under siege from federal regulations and mandates.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 2, 2012 - Ronald Reim saw the end coming.

And with it a new beginning.

“Literally, within three or four days, we decided we were going to make a run at this thing,” said the 53-year-old Reim. “We had a company formed and had taken over contracts within about a three-week period of time.”

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 13, 2012 - The head of a leading insurance industry trade association tried to reassure consumers on Tuesday that many of its member companies would keep certain provisions in the Affordable Care Act in place even if the law is voided by the Supreme Court.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 11, 2012 - When Victor Washington was growing up in a hardscrabble neighborhood near Union and St. Louis Avenue, he never dreamed of owning a landscaping business, let alone getting free legal help from Lewis, Rice & Fingersh, a prominent law firm downtown. Connections count, even in the world of very small businesses. The lawyer and the landscaper were brought together as a result of an economic development program started by Legal Services of Eastern Missouri.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 24, 2011 - As area members of Congress have fanned across the state for this month's recess, they're all business. Preferably, small business.

Not town halls.

Republican or Democrat, the common thread is striking.

Nixon: Mo. gets $27 million in incentives program

Mar 22, 2011
(UPI/Bill Greenblatt)

Updated at 1:10 p.m.  March 22, 2011 with comment from Nixon.

Missouri is receiving $27 million in federal money to boost small business growth and job creation.

The State Small Business Credit Initiative supports state-level, small business lending programs and is part of the Small Business Jobs Act signed by President Obama last fall.