Ribbon cutting participants for the Small Business Recovery & Readiness Center are: (left to right) J’Tanya Adams, Historic West End Partners founder; Chad Turner, Charlotte LGBT Chamber of Commerce president; Clifton Castello, Plaza-Midwood Merchants Association president; Charlotte City Council member James Mitchell; small business owner Bruce Nofsinger; Dee Dixon, Charlotte Museum of History board chair; and Jen Carbuto, Charlotte LGBT Chamber of Commerce vice president of external affairs.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In a week marked by controversy over police treatment of protestors, and the upcoming Republican National Convention, a ray of sunshine peaked through the clouds on the East side. The Charlotte LGBT Chamber of Commerce cut the ribbon on a small business command center on June 5.

Gathered at the Charlotte Museum of History, 3500 Shamrock Dr., representatives from the LGBT Chamber, Regional Business Alliance, East and West Charlotte associations along with members of the Charlotte City Council announced the arrival of the Small Business Recovery & Readiness Center. The organization provides information for small businesses trying to survive the financial impact of the quarantine and social distancing policies resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

qnotes first reported on the LGBT Chamber’s initiative in the April 9 issue. The Chamber, in collaboration with Charlotte Mecklenburg Black Chamber, Latin American Chamber of Commerce of Charlotte and Carolinas Asian-American Chamber of Commerce, created supportCLT  in response to COVID-19’s impact on small businesses. One of the core components was a hotline staffed remotely during business hours on weekdays. The hotline staffing will now be at an actual center housed at the Charlotte Museum of History. And there is a new website, ReadyCLT, which focuses on helping businesses re-open. The supportCLT website still provides resources for assistance with grants, loans and unemployment.

ReadyCLT was created to help small businesses navigate the three phases of Gov. Roy Cooper’s pandemic plan. The goal is to help these businesses get back to where they were before the pandemic, said Chad Turner, president of the LGBT Chamber. The organization will provide resources on sourcing protective personal equipment for businesses, timeline updates and information about best practices in re-opening and adapting to doing business during a pandemic.

“This is a great opportunity to partner with the city of Charlotte, particularly our small business community,” said Charlotte City Council member James Mitchell. “We’re just so excited, not only about the partnership, but with the results. As always, we’re doing it the Charlotte way — we’re collaborating.”

The small business community and the affinity chambers, such as the LGBT Chamber, came together to work for the small businesses, he added. Mitchell is co-chair of the City of Charlotte’s Small Business Recovery Task Force.

That committee is allocating $35 million from the federal government to help small businesses during the pandemic. Money will be used for business grants and programs to help with skills training and job placement.

City Council member Julie Eiselt, another co-chair, said ReadyCLT is a partner organization providing support services to businesses that cannot be covered by grants. The organization already has a structure in place to help businesses as the state winds through the phases of re-opening.

“They’re providing a need that’s really important right now,” she said.

The organization applied for a city grant to pay call center volunteers and revamp the website. Turner said he plans to staff the call center with workers who have been displaced as a result of the pandemic.

“The true small business has never been reflected very well in these sort of business organizations,” said Bruce Nofsinger, a small business owner for 25 years. “The small business coalition is a long time coming. It kind of took COVID-19 and that disruption to make it happen.”

One of the most impressive elements of the LGBT Chamber initiative has been the organization’s ability to pull people together.

“We’ve seen the LGBT Chamber and what they’ve done on behalf of small business for some time now,” said Clifton Castello, president of the Plaza-Midwood Merchants Association. “We’re using this opportunity to represent small businesses across Charlotte who will benefit from this new resource center here.”

Throughout this pandemic, the city has seen alliances form or grow stronger in response to the crisis. The opening of the center in East Charlotte is the latest example. It brings new energy to the Charlotte Museum of History, which seems dormant to most bystanders. The participation of community leaders from East and West Charlotte highlighted yet another alliance. For years, it has seemed as if East Charlotte and West Charlotte battled for attention for money and investment, but members of both communities attended the June 5 ribbon cutting.

“We’re all family. And now we’re going to make it happen and model it for the rest of the city,” said J’Tanya Adams, founder of Historic West End Partners. “Everyone needs to understand at a sensitive time like this, that we have been, can be and will be working to together. This is an exciting time.”

The pandemic is increasingly becoming a crisis that has united this city in ways that task forces and study groups have yet to do. It is highlighting relationships that have quietly formed between neighborhood groups and minority organizations seeking to collectively push this city forward.

For more information, visit readyCLT.com.