Danielle Mullen was worried when the coronavirus pandemic forced businesses to shut down in early March.
Semicolon, her bookstore that doubles as an art gallery space, opened just six months earlier, and Mullen feared the niche business she opened on a whim would be devastated. Like many businesses, she just wanted to survive the economic crisis.
“When we found out things were getting shut down, we knew we had to find a way to bring people in, and we started using Instagram for all our marketing, and really, anything about us,” Mullen said
The move worked, and instead of just surviving, this Black-woman-owned bookstore has thrived. Semicolon’s Instagram profile grew from 3,500 followers pre-coronavirus to nearly 67,000 followers today. It also has helped bring in over $1 million in sales — something Mullen could not have imagined. .
On Tuesday, Instagram will be highlighting Chicago small businesses like Semicolon that have found unique ways to survive the economic downturn while uplifting their communities. The two-day virtual festival dubbed “Experience: Chicago” will showcase 17 Black and Brown businesses that will give tutorials on operating a barbershop, cooking soul food, screen printing, fitness courses and cocktail making.
Instagram partnered with My Block, My Hood, My City for Tuesday’s event, which kicks off at 10:30 a.m. with the last tutorial beginning at 6:30 p.m. People will need to visit the group’s Instagram profile for the livestream.
Mullen is set to appear at 4 p.m. and plans on displaying the vibe her store is now known for — good music and a thoughtful conversation around Black-centered art and books.
Asya Kislyuk, Instagram’s policy program manager, said it is important to highlight businesses outside downtown Chicago and focus on businesses deep in the city’s neighborhoods.
“It was really important to showcase diverse-owned, Black-owned, Brown-owned businesses, especially during Hispanic Heritage Month,” Kislyuk said. “We also wanted to help cultivate a global audience from Instagram so people worldwide can learn about these businesses while experiencing Chicago.”
The Illinois Hispanic Chambers of Commerce’s Instagram profile will host the Wednesday event starting at 10 a.m. with the final tutorial at 6 p.m. One of the businesses to be showcased is Novias Davila, a dress shop in Little Village that began making masks in the wake of the pandemic.
Those interested in kicking off their morning by learning how to make Café de Olla — a traditional Mexican coffee drink — can join Back of the Yards Coffee beginning at 10 a.m.
Jesse Iniguez, co-founder of the café, said he will be showing people his grandmother’s recipe and is excited at the exposure the event will bring. Back of the Yards Coffee has dedicated itself to community building, and as a former teacher, he wants to display the beauty of Latin America.
“Coffee is very Latin American, and we want to demonstrate and show how much coffee means for our community,” Iniguez said.
Manny Ramos is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.