Entrepreneurship and COVID-19: Shop In Place Chicago

Chris Latham
Contributor

Creativity. Optimism. Resilience. Entrepreneurship. These qualities are the cornerstone of capitalism and are among the most powerful engines of innovation. When they are brought to fruition in the free market, ideas are generated, businesses get started, value is created, and society as a whole ultimately benefits. The economic upheaval and uncertainty created by the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) will demand the very best that both the public and private sectors have to offer. In the coming weeks, “This Is Capitalism” will supplement its regular content with stories of private-sector initiatives that embody these core qualities.

Shop In Place Chicago, a new website that gathers data on essential local small businesses in the Midwestern city, is one of many examples around the country of American entrepreneurs coming together to support their communities amid the global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Its roots lie in a somewhat unlikely place.

The Institute for Justice, a nonprofit public interest law firm based in Arlington, Virginia, sponsors the IJ Clinic on Entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago Law School. The Clinic, which is funded through donations, consists of a four-person team that works alongside U of C law school students. It normally provides free legal assistance for low-income entrepreneurs in Chicago and advocates for better laws for small business owners.

However, with the rapid increase globally and locally in COVID-19 infections over the previous few months, it became evident that the public health crisis would continue for an indefinite period of time and that small businesses would continue to suffer.

On March 20, 2020, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot issued official decrees that all residents should stay at home, or “shelter-in-place,” unless absolutely necessary and that all non-essential businesses should close  to mitigate spread of the virus.

SPARK OF INSPIRATION

“Chicagoans are doing their part to stay safe by staying home, and we know that homegrown Chicago businesses want to help,” says Erik Castelan, Operations and Community Relations Manager for the Institute for Justice Clinic on Entrepreneurship. “Our team decided to shift gears temporarily to find different ways to support our essential small business community.”

The Clinic’s assistant director, Amy Hermalik, decided to launch a website that connects Chicagoans looking for services to local small businesses that provide them, particularly those that accept payments online and deliver goods to homes.

Shop In Place Chicago launched on Monday, March 23, 2020. Within one day it had dozens of businesses listed, and the total number has grown consistently since then. The platform also was featured in a news broadcast on National Public Radio’s Chicago affiliate, WBEZ.

Categories on the website include Body Care and Home Cleaning; Grocery Products; Packaged Food; Restaurant (To Go or Delivery); Fitness; Educational Supplies; Toys and Games; as well as an “Other” category that features services such as accounting, vehicle repair, and pet care. Shop In Place Chicago also categorizes businesses by their location in the city’s neighborhoods.

Entrepreneurs who want their local business featured on the platform must complete a free submission form. In addition to sharing the above information and contact details about the shop, entrepreneurs must explain how the product or service can be fulfilled remotely during shelter-in-place orders. Preference goes to businesses that employ no more than 30 people. The Clinic’s staff then evaluates the submission to the best of its ability.

LEGAL RESOURCES

Shop In Place Chicago also features a hyperlink to the IJ Clinic’s website on information for local businesses during the COVID-19 outbreak. This contains resources about Small Business Administration (SBA) loans, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, Chicago’s Paid Sick Leave Ordinance, Cook County Commercial Evictions, and more.

“The businesses that are hurting the most are those that rely on physical contact,” Castelan says. “Businesses staying afloat are those that adapted to operating in a ‘contactless environment.’ Entrepreneurs are finding creative ways to deliver their products, whether through curbside pickups, online deliveries, or phone deliveries.

“Distinctive local businesses are the lifeblood of Chicago’s neighborhoods and now is the time to come together to keep those businesses alive,” he continues. “Local businesses can help the community by sharing information on initiatives taking place in Chicago. A couple of ways businesses can help themselves are by updating their customers on social media routinely, finding different ways to deliver their products, and of course by joining initiatives like us!”