As Small Business Week kicks off, local businesses navigate economic uncertainty

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Monday, May 1, 2023
Area business leaders navigate uncertainty of economy
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It's Triangle Small Business Week, but despite the area's rapid growth, many of those businesses face new challenges.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- It's Triangle Small Business Week, but despite the area's rapid growth, many of those businesses face new challenges amid rising interest rates and uncertainty in the banking system.

In the wake of another bank collapse this week, access to funding remains top of mind for many of those small business owners.

Victoria Scott-Miller owns Liberation Station Bookstore, which is set to open its first brick-and-mortar location on Fayetteville St. in Raleigh in June. She says high interest rates and lack of access to funding were part of her decision to remain a pop-up business since opening four years ago.

"Part of the reason why we even started out of the trunk of our car was a lack of access to capital," said Scott-Miller. "We didn't know that four years later when opening our first brick and mortar, that we would bump heads with some of the same issues like high interest rates and lack of accessibility to funding."

Scott-Miller credits the upcoming Fayetteville storefront to a crowdsourced funding model, saying alternative financing created an opportunity that didn't exist with the big banks.

"As contributions were rolling in, we were able to get that funding in real time, which allowed us to start building out and checking off some of those goals that we had in order to lead us to our opening," she said.

Andrew Ullom, owner of Union Special, says he's felt the financial pressure recently, too. Between coping with an interest rate around 10% and navigating higher grocery costs, Ullom says their bottom line is hurting.

"Compared to last year, I am paying an additional manager's salary in interest this year, and it is a massive hit to cash flow," Ullom said.

Ullom described the phenomenon as being like "a heavyweight fighter punching in both directions."

But events like Triangle Small Business Week are an opportunity to grow exposure and get access to resources. Jennifer Martin, Executive Director of Shop Local Raleigh, says city and county provide great outreach to business owners, but it can still be a lonely profession.

"We forget that these people that are running these small businesses, they don't have the big 401K, they don't have the corporate backing," Martin said. "They don't have traditionally a lot of investors. And so they truly are the ones having to figure it out."

Martin says rising rent costs are also a factor, causing more businesses to shift to pop-up or mobile business models.

"That is one of the things that we're also seeing," said Martin. "A lot of people go mobile, you know, to try and help because right now it's just too expensive. To have that brick and mortar right here."

Business owners we spoke with say Raleigh remains a great place to plant business seeds, in large part due to those resources.

Triangle Small Business Week began on Sunday, and runs through this week.