FLATBUSH – To support small businesses amid the coronavirus pandemic, two Brooklynites launched Flatbush Thrives, a comprehensive website that connects Flatbush business owners and service providers with federal, state, and local resources to keep their businesses alive.
Flatbush Thrives aims to connect volunteers (who have skills in business, accounting, law, or grant writing) with business owners. During the time of COVID-19, this is important as small businesses are suffering. On March 9, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced measures to help businesses affected or about to be affected by the coronavirus. The city asked businesses to carry on, but if possible to allow employees to work remotely, or at stagger the hours so that rush hour commuting is not as packed.
“If you have a business where people typically all come in at eight o’clock or nine o’clock and you can get some of them to come in at 10:00 am and work later, that really helps us. So we’re looking for either or both of those accommodations from employers to the maximum extent they can,” the Mayor said.
But businesses such as nail salons, tattoo parlors, and hair studios were forced to close down as they are not “essential.” And according to social justice advocate and Flatbush Thrives’ co-founder Maya Wiley, these are the businesses that have been offered little to no help from the government.
“Very small businesses in Flatbush are the lifeblood of the community. They are important to the business owners who support their families, and also employ other people and serve the community,” Wiley told Bklyner. “But we were hearing that some very small businesses either didn’t know about government loan programs to help them survive the Coronavirus pandemic, or, if they did, they wanted some support to apply successfully.”
And thus, Flatbush Thrives was created.
“We also have a community that steps up to help each other and we knew many people were looking for ways to volunteer safely,” Wiley said. “Because we live in Central Brooklyn and care deeply about our small businesses, we thought a website that enabled businesses to be matched with volunteers to help them learn about and apply successfully for grant and loan programs could help more small businesses survive.”
Wiley and her co-founder Justin Hendrix, both live in Central Brooklyn. Both of them come from families with small business owners, which made this initiative extra important to them. Additionally, Wiley has served as de Blasio’s Director of Minority & Women-Owned Businesses when she was his Counsel. Hendrix has a long history working with entrepreneurs and supporting tech startups at NYC Media Lab and RLab, where he is the executive director.
“We just want to help our neighbors as much as possible by making sure the available information and programs are clear to the people that need these funds,” Hendrix told Bklyner. “There is a lot of confusion right now.”
Both Wiley and Hendrix acknowledge that many people get confused between the state, federal, and city resources and don’t realize there are more agencies and options that can better assist them. That’s where Flatbush Thrives comes in.
“There are three layers of government – federal, state, and city. Each has small business focused agencies,” Wiley explained. “Sometimes businesses don’t know about all the programs available. And sometimes they get information they don’t understand, or have questions they need answered.”
“There are also language barriers. We worried that, particularly in Central Brooklyn, we might have some business owners who are better able to navigate the process with language support. We have French Kreyol and Spanish translation on the site and we have volunteers who speak these languages and can match owners who need a Kreyol or Spanish speaker.”
Currently, they are looking for more volunteers.
“We are looking for volunteers who have the ability to understand and provide basic support for application requirements. People who are lawyers, CPAs, have grant-writing experience or have operated businesses or non-profits all have useful skills,” Wiley said. “We provide some basic training and will also have references for more complicated questions. There are small business support organizations that volunteers can share with businesses if there are more complicated questions. Language skills are also useful.”
Though it is hard for small business owners now, it will also be difficult getting back up to their feet once the pandemic is over– especially for those who have had to shut down. Wiley believes that the more businesses take advantage of the resources, the easier it will be for them.
“The good news is that Congress is looking at adding more funds to low-cost loan programs to help businesses hold on during this ‘pause.’ There is money available right now to pay employees, including the owners, and rent and utilities,” Wiley said. “Also, sole proprietors and independent contractors are eligible. These funds are important and we believe can make a difference. It won’t be easy but the more businesses take advantage of the programs, the more ability we have to show what more is needed.”
State Senator Kevin Parker agrees and applauds Wiley’s and Hendrix’s efforts, saying, “I am proud to work alongside Maya Wiley and Flatbush Thrives to ensure that our small businesses are connected to the resources available to them during these challenging times.”
“I applaud the business professionals and larger community who are making this initiative possible through volunteering their time and service to support the engines that keep our community running – our small businesses,” he continued. “I applaud Flatbush Thrives for their timely arrival in Central Brooklyn, and for the courage of their leaders to step up when our community needs them the most.”
For more information about Flatbush Thrives, to volunteer, or to access resources, check out their website.