2020 felt like pushing a boulder up an ice mountain while wearing sneakers. But the universe conspired to keep a few of us going, despite a global pandemic. Day in and day out, little by little, a step at a time (except for Zoom which required a G I A N T leap of just figuring it out so I could stay in touch with people) and consistency to just keep doing the work. A lifetime career in business including 15 years teaching as an adjunct college instructor taught me how to figure stuff out. Whenever a student got stumped, I broke down the lessons; this helped me sometimes more than the student. However, in 2020, I had to teach myself. Break it down into small parts, I kept telling myself and then move on to the next lesson. It always helps to build a strong foundation.
My village of fellow sister and brother entrepreneurs came through in a big way by encouraging, supporting, advocating and collaborating. These mighty souls work tirelessly, fly by their apron strings, care for their families and the families of those they employ, and help to feed the bodies and souls of countless others through their businesses and contributions in their communities. And these just aren't food businesses. They are the makers of candles, paper, personal care products, tools, furniture, artwork, jewelry, clothing and more. Photographers, artists, craftspeople, event planners, farmers market vendors, butchers, bakers, designers, etc. etc. And, let me not forget to mention the growers of food who work on local farms.
Emails, text messages and shout outs to me on social media were priceless motivation. I simply loved walking into Larder, Jeremy Umanskys delicatessen and bakery in Ohio City and have him welcome me by name. The quiet whirl of people masked and standing 6 feet apart waiting patiently for takeout food orders. And, how much love did he show me by including some of my favorite pickles, and yummy noshes in my order? If these people weren't giving up, neither was I. Same goes to people like Tony at Troubadour Coffee, Leon at Sports and Spine Physical Therapy, Jason at The Local Flavors Shoppe, Chris and Amanda at Rittman Orchards, Deby at Locle Box, Jordan at Food Bevy, Hank at Mister Brisket and Amanda at Made Cleveland. If ever there was a year for a pivot for small business, 2020 wins the prize.
Amidst unpredictability, there were hidden blessings. When the Cleveland Cavaliers decided to highlight all local products in their Taste of Cleveland holiday gift, this spoke volumes as to the importance of supporting our hometown businesses. See featured image. And the list goes on and on.
My friend Dawn, owner of Daybreak Yoga equates 2020 to having run through fire. She recently shared on Instagram that I survived because the fire inside me burned brighter than the fire around me. You may be left standing at the door of 2021 feeling singed and contemplating if you lost everything in the smoke. BUT. The truth is: now you're fire tested, and fire approved. You ALL are skilled firefighters. And, so we press on.
My friend Shawnda says "this ain't no game" when people remark that she's lucky to have her own business. Game, this is not. Shawnda runs a small business in Cleveland called CLE Biscuit Heads. She hustles hard and lets it be known that running and keeping a business going is hard, even when there's no pandemic. Shawnda sets up biscuit making each morning at Six Shooter Coffee in the Waterloo neighborhood of Cleveland. Best biscuits around. Six Shooter had a car crash come through their storefront window, not once, but twice in less than a year. Did it stop them? No, they somehow managed to work around the damage and support the community. Who does this? People who have been fire tested.
Time and again I’d be greeted by people like Greg at Beachclub Bistro who always made sure our curbside pickups were safely stowed in the back seat of my car. Or, seeing the familiar faces of vendors at the weekly Northunion Farmers Market at Shakers Square who knew I’d be looking for lettuce, corn, apples, berries, flowers, cheese or mushrooms early on Saturday mornings. People were kind and thankful for my business.
When I would collapse into a puddle some days last year over the heartache of lost lives, essential workers who were burnt out, businesses that closed, supermarkets and pharmacies who stayed open for us to get food and supplies, friends who lost their jobs, the USPS, UPS, and FEDEX drivers who delivered in spite of the crushing demands placed by trying to fulfill online orders, I was humbled by the sheer enormity of what was happening and how people were coping. This wasn't a normal year. However, I saw hope, optimism, sheer grit and determination by people who kept going, sometimes at their own peril.
I used to believe that a CEO stood for Chief Executive Officer. In 2020, it stood for Chase Every Opportunity--something that every sales rookie does when just starting out. Reinvention as to what could be. Eyes wide open to all possibilities. Survival. Silver linings. Making it work. Helping one another.
Here are a few businesses that are making it work.
Pat Bennett is the founder and President of Pat's Granola, a Cleveland based food company. Pat's Granola is sold online at www.patsgranola.com and is also available at several Northeast Ohio businesses including:
Troubadour Coffee Roasters www.troubadourcoffeeroasters.com
Sports and Spine Physical Therapy www.sportspine.com
Local Flavors Shoppe www.localflavors.net
Rittman Orchards and Farm Market www.rittmanorchards.com
Cleveland Hopkins International Airport www.clevelandairport.com
Locle Box www.loclebox.com
Market Wagon Northeast Ohio www.marketwagon.com
Made Cleveland www.madecleveland.com