The importance of promoting equity and LGBTQIA+ small businesses during the COVID crisis.
In a typical week we visit over a dozen small businesses consistently. Local beauty salons coffee shops and boutiques are conveniently at our disposal with that special personal touch you look forward to. So what happens when you’re told to physically stop engaging with neighborhood shops? Small businesses and communities alike lose touch with each other. Here at NYC Pride we got to cooking up something different to remedy this! By putting together creativity technology and equity we created MarketFest—NYC Pride’s NEW virtual space where LGBTQIA+ vendors can engage with consumers and promote their small businesses like never before.
The shutdown of New York City in March 2020 did not leave much room for optimism for NYC Pride’s larger outdoor events. PrideFest our one-day LGBTQIA+ street fair provides a direct business to consumer experience for over 150 local artisans and food vendors. With outdoor events canceled it was time for NYC Pride to pivot. Conceived by the volunteers who bring you PrideFest each year as an alternative to the in-person experience MarketFest was created—a platform made to host information about LGBTQIA+ owned & operated small businesses. Fundamentally functioning as a directory the platform is a tool where LGBTQIA+ merchants can increase their digital brand exposure to an audience eager to support them.
Concern for the small business community is still at an all-time high. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with MetLife reports that “Two-thirds of small businesses are concerned about having to close again or stay closed if there is a second wave of COVID-19.” Business owners of color are harder hit during the pandemic. We can only imagine how LGBTQIA+ small businesses are also being affected by these crippling effects. “When we were dreaming up MarketFest we knew that we wanted to build a program that could support our PrideFest family and the LGBTQIA+ community through these crazy times.” writes Lauren Cheeseborough the seasonal NYC Pride event coordinator who spearheaded this exciting initiative Lauren an experiential producer from Brooklyn was an integral part of the development of MarketFest in August 2020.
“People were losing their jobs left and right, small businesses were closing their doors but at the same time, we saw that people were willing to give what they had to support those who needed it—we just needed to know where to direct their attention. As NYC Pride we knew that we had a platform that could help increase exposure for some of the businesses in the community. We wanted MarketFest to become THE central hub where people could come to find LGBTQIA+ owned & operated businesses.”
Small businesses have long been crucial to local economies and individuals alike. Start-ups and healthy small businesses contribute to jobs while growing innovation. Within the queer community business ownership takes the form of identity protection. Entrepreneurs can live freely without worrying about or conforming to the uncomfortable “norms” society has established in the corporate workspace. MarketFest serves as a safe platform for all merchants who are proud of who they are and have a vested interest in serving the queer community.
With this project’s purpose and creative direction in place it was time to build the site. Eliza Brenn Principal at New York-based creative studio MINNIE MGMT and former NYC Pride event coordinator helped bring the virtual experience to life.
“Creating the MarketFest site with the PrideFest team was an exciting challenge from the very beginning. There were many qualities of PrideFest we were trying to recreate in this virtual experience like spotlighting small businesses and creating opportunities for community engagement. We also wanted to make it fun with a festive feel, true to the experience of an in-person PrideFest. That's why we chose bright colors and modern patterns for the look of the site. By creating an online presence for PrideFest I think it will continue to evolve and new opportunities will be created for LGBTQIA+ businesses without the limitations of the in-person market experience.”
While Eliza focused on the design functionality and optimization of the site Lauren wrote the copy for the demo pages performed user interface assessments and prepped the vendors’ registration process. In early September the website was open for demo viewing and vendor registration.
During this time of uncertainty it is now even more essential to support the LGBTQIA+ small business community. For NYC Pride, that meant making an intentional effort to make the platform equitable.
Lauren reaffirms this mentality by emphasizing the purpose of MarketFest...
“One of the key things that make MarketFest different from PrideFest is that to be a part of the site you must be an LGBTQIA+ owned or operated business or an organization that provides services specifically to the community.”
The registration process consists of several qualifying questions and an Allyship Questionaire to ensure that those who do not identify as queer are aligned in our mission to uplift LGBTQIA+ businesses. There are tiered registrations at specific price points with à la carte options for all business income levels. But was that enough?
“To truly support the community we realized that there couldn’t be any barriers to entry for LGBTQIA+ small businesses, so we made the call to have registration for the directory be free of charge. As a non-profit if we are creating a program for the community then it needs to be just that—for the community.”
MarketFest is currently up and running with over 50+ small businesses and services owned and operated by members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Just in time for the holidays, MarketFest seeks to bring customers and vendors together as folx are getting ready to dust off their holiday decor. There is much hope that small businesses will return and that the holiday shopping season will significantly boost business.
This year consider supporting your community and #shopqueer through MarketFest!