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The Historic West End Partners used City of Charlotte CARES Act funding through the NoDa Artist Employment Grant to commission artwork from Abel Jackson and Big Trouble Studios. The art depicts both the West End’s historic streetcar and the new one that replaced it, contributing to the area’s growth.

CharlotteFive

It’s been a tough time for small businesses during COVID-19. We’ve seen the final days of some local favorites but have also witnessed the opening of new businesses to brighten the city’s future.

Opening and running a business during a coronavirus pandemic is no small feat. Some companies used local grants to pivot their business models to better serve their customers — both BLKMRKTCLT and Opera Carolina expanded virtual offerings, for example.

Charlotte Center City Partners launched the Small Business Innovation Fund in June 2020 in collaboration with the Foundation for the Carolinas, Honeywell, Bank of America, Duke Energy, the Knight Foundation and the City of Charlotte to provide funding to help local businesses pivot amid the pandemic. Since then, the funds have been awarded to over 116 businesses in three rounds. A fourth round is slated for early 2021.

“During this crisis, we’ve seen our community step up in tremendous ways to support our unique small businesses as they innovate and adapt to changing times,” said James LaBar, director of economic development at Charlotte Center City Partners.

Some local businesses also received assistance through the Invest in Creatives Fund, financed by the CARES Act and the private THRIVE Fund. These funds aim to support artists and creative entrepreneurs, as well as small, mid-size and large nonprofits with a primary mission of arts, science, history and/or creativity.

CharlotteFive talked to local grant recipients to learn how they made positive change in uncertain times, from the Historic West End Partners commissioning murals to support artists to CLT Find expanding e-commerce offerings to connect with customers virtually.

BLKMRKTCLT

Grant received: Small Business Innovation Fund

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Hundreds of local Charlotte businesses have received grants from the city to continue to innovate and create for years to come, including studio and gallery BLKMRKCLT. Courtesy of BLKMRKTCLT

While 2020 looked different than what was originally planned, co-owner Will Jenkins said it was a “great year creatively,” as he and fellow co-owner Dammit Wesley helped create the Black Lives Matter murals and participated in a collective art show at Elder Gallery.

“We are a place that’s known for our events and bringing people together; that becomes tough when, to save people’s lives, it’s best to stay away from each other,” Jenkins said.

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BLKMRKTCLT will use grant funds to focus on virtual projects and create additional resources for local creatives. Marcus Prosper

BLKMRKTCLT is a gallery and studio space at Camp North End that works with local photographers and artists of color, hosting exhibitions and workshops.

“We’ve had to limit our events and studio rentals, so we’ve used the funds to focus on more virtual projects, create additional resources for local creatives during this surge of creative support in the city and to hire creatives for various projects.”

Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen

Grant received: Small Business Innovation Fund

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Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen plans to use its grant money to expand outdoor space to host cooking classes outside. Courtesy of Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen

Since its inception, Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen has been known for its in-person cooking classes. Once the pandemic hit, the business quickly pivoted to virtual offerings and family table to-go meals to stay afloat.

“We were in survival mode,” co-owner Alyssa Wilen said. “Our business changed overnight, and we had to grind and do our best to get through it. So much was out of our control. The greatest challenge has been to continue to adapt and roll with the punches.”

The grant money will be used to extend the outdoor space at Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen, including heating elements to comfortably accommodate more outdoor grilling classes. It will also go toward a sustainability project to demonstrate the full-circle effects of composing in partnership with Crown Town Compost.

CLT Find

Grant received: Small Business Innovation Fund

Toni South and Christy Pope opened CLT Find’s flagship store in the 7th Street Public Market almost four years ago out of a shared love for buying local and seeking out creative makers in the city. A second shop on College Street inside of Overstreet Mall followed, selling goods from more than 90 local makers. Then COVID-19 hit. Both locations closed, then 7th Street reopened in August — with revenue down about 75 percent.

“We realize with COVID restrictions, that consumers are shopping online now more than ever before. We have expanded to offer a much larger range of online goods with safe pickup and delivery options,” Pope said. The grant money will help expand that e-commerce. “We are hustling as hard as we can to stay afloat, just pouring a little more effort into behind the scenes marketing, web design, networking and strategy.”

Goodyear Arts

Grant received: Small Business Innovation Fund, Invest in Creatives

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Goodyear Arts will use its grant money to create safe in-person and virtual programming to support local artists and their work. Andy McMillan

In a normal year, Goodyear Arts programs would see 500-1000 attendees for a single event, showcasing local artists and curators, and offers studio space to artists. COVID-19 drastically changed the operation.

“We shifted our focus to provide continued support for the 40+ artists in the Goodyear Arts Collective through the creation of both virtual and safe in-person programming,” Goodyear Arts co-founder and co-director Amy Herman said. “The grant helped us pay for months of utilities and staffing. Without assistance, we may have been forced to reallocate money that will be used to pay artists in the future programming.”

Historic West End Partners

Grant received: City of Charlotte CARES Act – NoDa Artist Employment Grant

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The Historic West End Partners also commissioned work from T’Afo Feimster, the curator for the LATIBAH Collard Green Museum. Alex Cason Photography CharlotteFive

“Creatives are usually the last ones thought of unless someone is interested in something pro bono,” said J’Tanya Adams, program director at Historic West End Partners.

The Historic West End Partners is a nonprofit organization dedicated to stimulating economic growth in West End while honoring the area’s rich heritage and culture. Upon receiving City of Charlotte CARES Act funding through the NoDa Artist Employment Grant, the organization commissioned murals from local artists including Abel Jackson, T’Afo Feimster, Tiffany Leach, Abel Jackson, Ricky Singh, John Hairston Jr. and Chad Cartwright.

“It was good to be able to compensate them and include [artists],” Adams said. “We always wanted to do it, we were just never able to fund the projects with them. And so fortunately, this [pandemic] assisted us in something we’ve always wanted to do.”

Matt Brunson

Grant received: Invest in Creatives

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Professional film reviewer and freelancer Matt Brunson will use his grant money to support his family and career. Courtesy of Matt Brunson

If you’ve ever searched for movie reviews online, you may recognize Matt Brunson’s name. A long-time film reviewer for Creative Loafing, he’s now the voice behind Film Frenzy and an accredited reviewer for both Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb.

“My job meant that I pretty much lived at the movie theaters, which is where I — and other area critics — caught all the advanced screenings so we could have timely reviews for film openings. But as you know, once the pandemic struck, all the movie theaters closed down.”

Brunson plans to use the grant to support his family and career.

Opera Carolina

Grant received: Invest in Creatives

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Opera Carolina adapted to COVID-19 with new offerings, all of which will continue to be sustained with the grant. Courtesy of Opera Carolina

Missing concerts and evening date nights? Now, you’ll find the new Virtual Opera House, Driveway PopUp concerts, iStream Series and online education and training programs.

Since COVID-19 canceled education programs, special events and performances for the 2020-21 season, the team at Opera Carolina shifted its offerings to offer music anywhere.

“We are proud of the fact that Opera Carolina has not furloughed one employee. We are confident in our ability to sustain the Opera through the pandemic, while flexing our creative muscles to continue to serve this wonderful community with great music, engaging education programs and innovative performances,” said Opera Carolina Artistic Director James Meena.

Tapp Beauty

Grant received: Small Business Innovation Fund

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Charlton Tapp, the man behind the Jeffre Scott Apothecary, rebranded his store under a new name with husband Bob Tapp. Anastasiia Terentieva/Courtesy of Tapp Beauty

Fans of Jeffre Scott Apothecary will find the brand has been reimagined into Tapp Beauty, the collaborative efforts of Charlton and Bob Tapp. After getting married, the couple wanted to expand their portfolios under one name, combining Charlton’s beauty industry expertise with Bob’s knowledge of fashion and interior design. The Myers Park boutique closed its doors in March when the pandemic hit and saw the closing of its next-door neighbor, the 73-year-old Manor Theatre.

“It was without a doubt the scariest time I’ve ever been through as a business owner,” Charlton said. “We had no idea what was to come or how to make it. But, instead of giving in, we went in the opposite direction and decided to reimagine.

“We have used the grant to truly reinvent ourselves and went to work creating a new experience for our clients — a renovated store to ensure safety and functionality, and an online shop with a live chat that allows us to connect with clients virtually. Navigating the pandemic has been very difficult, but we believe we have created the absolute best beauty experience we possibly can, and weathering this means we can withstand anything else that comes our way.”

Will Jenkins

Grant received: Invest in Creatives

Along with his work as one of the co-founders of BLKMRKTCLT, Jenkins is also a photographer, video producer and creative consultant under his brand, Simplistic Phobia. His work includes photos and videos from the Durag Festival, artist interviews from the creators behind Black Lives Matter mural and the #CreateHappy project focused on the mental health of creatives of color.

Jenkins learned about the grant through Hue House, an agency dedicated to ensuring creatives of color are equitably represented and supported in Charlotte.

“It felt exciting, and a bit of a weight was lifted off of my shoulders,” Jenkins said. “You don’t realize how many extra expenses you incur during this time just to stay open and create. I will be using it to help pursue more personal projects.”


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Jessica is a writer fueled by coffee, cookies and long walks in the Magic Kingdom. She’s often found exploring the culinary scene (mostly pasta) and traveling. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @jessicaswannie.

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