Supporting Small Businesses During The COVID-19 Pandemic

Small local businesses have been hit hard by the global pandemic. The Oakland Chamber of Commerce’s own Ashleigh Smallwood, Small Business and Workforce Manager, explains the Chamber’s approach to helping these businesses survive and thrive.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce is offering additional resources, guidance, and outreach to support small businesses. In this unprecedented situation, our team has worked to quickly adapt and grow our capacity. I was hired, just a week-and-a-half before Governor Newsom announced a State of Emergency in March. My role quickly became centered around innovative action to help businesses stay informed, communicate with the public, and make sense of this new world.


At the onset of this public health crisis, we quickly began to focus on how we could support the thousands of small businesses in Oakland. We were one of the first groups to launch a crowdsourced list of organizations and small businesses providing modified services during COVID-19, called Oakland’s Open. This list showcases a variety of businesses, including retail and restaurants, and it’s continued to be a resource frequently referenced by local diners. It’s also organized by neighborhood for the convenience of community members. 


In addition to our Oakland’s Open list for the public, we created a list of resources that cover everything from the latest local public health orders to grant opportunities for small businesses. This provides a one-stop-shop for businesses and the community at large to stay up to date even as information and regulations change quickly. 


Recognizing that businesses are inundated with new information and regulations to align with federal, state, and local requirements, we wanted to remove one item from their to-do lists. In response, we created multilingual reopening guides in alignment with Alameda County’s reopening requirements, and offered them free of charge to businesses and nonprofits. To expand our reach, we partnered with the Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce, the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, the Oakland Latino Chamber of Commerce, the Oakland Vietnamese Chamber of Commerce, BID Alliance, and City Council to help distribute signs, and we also made them available to download on our website. 



This pandemic is not over yet – and that means the Chamber is going to keep updating our informational guides and seeking out new ways to serve our local business community during this time. Furthermore, With the guidance of the Chamber’s Small Business Committee, we are planning to distribute an additional small business survey to our regular outreach to gain a deeper understanding of the most immediate needs of Oakland’s business community. We will use this survey to create programming and resources specific to the needs identified knowing they may vary from our ongoing outreach, programming and advocacy. And of course we will continue to work to create a more inclusive and equitable business ecosystem that addresses the diverse needs of our business community, even after the COVID-19 crisis ends.


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