[Recap] “We Are on Life Support” – Stories of Small Business Resilience During COVID

Flourish Conversations Out Of The Blocks

A Firsthand Documentary Film by NPR’s “Out of the Blocks”

When COVID-19 first hit, Flourish responded, and we sought to uncover the stories of people hit hardest by the economic shock. So did journalist Aaron Henkin, whose award-winning podcast Out of the Blocks has told the stories of American neighborhoods for over a decade.

Flourish partnered with Aaron to film a documentary on how COVID impacted small businesses across America. We talked to a Baltimore seafood takeout shop, a small boutique in Seattle, a family-owned barbecue joint in Charleston, W.Va., and many others.

We wanted to bring to light the day-to-day challenges these small businesses were facing. But lockdowns kept Aaron from traveling the country with a film crew, so we sent “care packages” with iPhones, tripods, lighting systems, and recording gear to small business owners so they could tell their own stories. Every shopkeeper, beautician, and short-order cook is a co-director of the documentary.

What they recorded were incredible stories of resilience – not only how they stayed open during the pandemic, but also helped their neighbors, kept staff employed, and became leaders in their communities.

“We are on life support, we have a lot of people who want to work, but the bank is not giving us a loan. That’s why you see the whole neighborhood boarded up,” said Lakeith, a Baltimore-based auto mechanic, as he panned his iPhone camera past rows of padlocked storefronts.

Aaron told Flourish Senior Investment Analyst Tina Moran how during COVID, business owners felt more connected to their communities than ever before. “A city block is an inadvertent tribe you become part of,” he says. “During the pandemic and tight times for business, those neighbors know they can count on each other.”

After three attempts, the barbecue restaurant in West Virginia finally got a PPP loan and was able to hire back a few servers, but they scraped by until the state allowed reopening.

“We’re trying to become as contactless as possible, but it’s tough because barbecue is a community food, so people want to be around people,” said Ashley Wright, manager of Dem 2 Brothers & a Grill. “We could have went out of business,” added owner Adrian Wright, “but I don’t have quit in my blood, I don’t know how to give up.”

See all these stories from small business owners across America in the Out of the Blocks documentary – and hear director Aaron Henkin in conversation with Flourish’s Tina Moran.


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