In the last few years, Charleston, SC has seen a real estate and economic boom, which has left many small businesses behind due to gentrification. Charleston Rhizome’s solution? Championing the tiny businesses that operate there. Sharon Rowe- author of the book The Magic of Tiny Business says, "Those involved in tiny businesses are quietly changing the norm. They are where the magic is happening, where new ideas get a chance to take root and create new markets. They are businesses. Only tiny, like how Etsy started."
Charleston Rhizome are an inter-generational, multi-racial, grassroots collective; a local network of artists, business owners and community youth connected by shared values, collaboration, mentoring and apprenticeships and meaningful story sharing. They are working to connect and promote tiny businesses in Charleston and address economic and workforce development in traditionally under resourced communities. Their aim is to contribute to the cultural narrative of their town, challenging the status quo and creating meaningful employment across generations. They are making space for direct collaboration, encouraging the idea of reciprocity as a mode for social change.
They have developed a mobile app which will soon be available for download in the app stores but for now can be found here. It will work in concert with a series of community art events to drive business, introduce local store owners and create a more robust economy for the tiny businesses that still exist in significant numbers, although the racial demographics of many communities have changed. Local businesses like Firetag, Hamilton’s, Jimmie the Greek’s store and Al’s barber shop are more than economic engines, they are manifestations of a cultural heritage that also make visual the ongoing struggles of people experiencing racial and class discrimination. The tiny business initiative seeks to unite businesses with the residents of the communities they serve.
Along with the app, Charleston Rhizome has created a set of resources to connect local tiny business owners, students, young entrepreneurs, artists, educators, activists and civic leaders. They also seek out local narratives that are often left out of economic conversations – the hopes, fears, aspirations and memories of generations of Charlestonians, especially those who represent marginalized populations like minorities, women and immigrants.
Tiny businesses are vital contributors to livable, lovable neighborhoods everywhere. Providing resources and support to tiny businesses helps them sustain and withstand the impacts of change. Supporting artists allows them to work as "art-trepreneurs" and makes the difference between one additional sale per day or one additional loyal customer for life. The work here is all about the quality of local social relationships as a base for shared prosperity and economic equity.
Through connection, another world is possible – and tiny can sure be powerful.
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