Christina Weaver and Jordan Bauer personally know how much hard work and dedication it takes to succeed as small business owners. What they couldn’t have known just four months ago was how connected they would soon be in rallying to support the broader small business community in St. Louis amid the pandemic.
Twelve years ago, Weaver founded Route, a nonprofit that sources ethical, fair-trade clothing and accessories from around the world. She later co-founded The Women’s Creative, a movement to support women-owned small businesses in St. Louis, alongside entrepreneurs Megan Rohall and Meg Smidt.
Bauer, meanwhile, opened Hello Juice, a fresh-pressed juice and smoothie bar in the Grove, with his wife, Kayla, in 2018. In addition to operating Hello Juice, Bauer is a graphic designer who runs the popular stlouisgram Instagram account, which has more than 100,000 followers. He also publishes Experience Booklet, a coupon-style guide featuring local restaurants, retail businesses and more.
After joining The Women’s Creative, Kayla met Christina, and earlier this year, Jordan met her as well when he designed some materials for an event the group was hosting. Reports of the COVID-19 virus were dominating the news at the time, Bauer says, and it seemed inevitable that it would soon spread across the St. Louis area.
“The only thing that was on the news cycle at that time was like super doom and gloom,” Bauer recalls. “We were standing there chatting, saying, ‘Man, we wish that there was some kind of hub that small business owners could get behind,’ which is what got us excited about the idea for #314Together. Every business knew change was going to happen, but they didn’t have anyone to bounce ideas off of.”
To provide just such an outlet, Christina, alongside her business partners Megan Rohall and Meg Smidt at The Women’s Creative, and in partnership with the Bauers, created a Facebook group on March 13. They named it #314Together and promoted it as a platform for small business owners in the St. Louis area to connect with local consumers during the pandemic and subsequent quarantining. Bauer designed the group’s logo and branding and collaborated with The Women’s Creative on marketing and promotion.
“Our hope for it was just to encourage people to continue to use local small businesses in a way that they feel like is safe for them,” Weaver says. “We just hope that it’s just another way to keep people refocused on remembering that ordering off Amazon is easy, but when we are buying local, we’re really supporting our neighbors.”
For Tiffany Unger, who owns The Wandering Sidecar Bar Company with her husband, Dave, the #314Together group proved pivotal in buoying their business in recent months. Before the pandemic, the company frequently parked its two mobile bars (one inside a camper and the other in a converted horse trailer) outside at events both public and private.
“When the pandemic hit and we didn’t know what we were going to do, we needed to pivot, and the state of Missouri allowed to-go cocktails,” Unger says. “When that happened, we used social media exclusively to promote what we were doing and platforms like #314Together saw a lot of traffic — there was a lot of interest in supporting local business because of everything that was happening. The majority of our business — the sharing and all of that — came from that platform.”
In a matter of months, the #314Together Facebook group has evolved into more of a local movement to support local small business owners hit hard by the pandemic. The cause now has an official website in addition to the Facebook group and has branched out with a second movement, The New Normal. Both initiatives have been promoted by The Women’s Creative, Experience Booklet and Bauer’s stlouisgram Instagram account.
Whereas #314Together encouraged consumers to patronize local small businesses in new and creative ways, like to-go cocktails or purchasing groceries from restaurants, The New Normal, in partnership with Explore St. Louis, seeks to have the same impact as businesses reopen their brick-and-mortars. On May 18, the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County entered phase one of reopening with specific guidelines for how restaurants and retail businesses could operate. As St. Louisans transition from sheltering-in-place to this new normal, the movement has encouraged consumers to kindly and safely “keep it local.”
“Every business is really just trying to stay afloat and survive,” Bauer says. We need to get back out there and support the city that we all vocalize on social media about supporting. We’re all very quick to write a post on how to support it, but it’s now time to actually go out and re-explore it physically.”
As Black Lives Matter protests are taking place throughout the nation, the team behind the New Normal is working to make sure their efforts are inclusive going forward.
“The goal is to make sure that people are going out, going out safely, using the business and amenities and the opportunities that St. Louis has,” Weaver says, “and that every group in the city feels engaged with that. We’re really wanting to support Black-owned businesses.”
“It’s not a quick fix or an overnight change,” Rohall adds, “but we’re having conversations, learning and educating and listening as much as we can, and we want to amplify other voices.”
To help support local small businesses as they reopen, The New Normal has designed and distributed window cling-type stickers for entrepreneurs to broadcast their desire to “keep it kind, keep it local, keep it safe,” designed by Bauer. Stickers can be purchased on The New Normal’s website and all proceeds benefit the Gateway Resilience Fund, which supports area hospitality workers who have lost their jobs and income as a result of the pandemic.
“It’s really exciting to see that it’s become such a big platform and something that people are using on a regular basis,” Weaver says. “We’d love to encourage people to keep following what we’re doing and sharing with us what they have going on — especially small business owners — so that we can help get the word out.”