What is the RI Small Business Coalition?
The Coalition is made up of thousands of small businesses and supporters, advocating and supporting our small businesses in Rhode Island. It is a volunteer-based organization that was organically created due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Membership is free to join, and be part of our movement! Together, we will create the changes we need.
The idea for the site was born in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic during one of Lt. Governor McKee’s small business conference calls where the topic of discussion was: How we can help small businesses make it through this pandemic?
Justin Gontarek, owner of Simplicity Print Studio (former owner of Oceanside Graphics), had an answer. He volunteered his time and worked with the Lt. Governor’s Office to launch Gift it Forward in March 2020, a statewide effort to encourage Rhode Islanders to support local businesses by purchasing gift cards through an online database.
The Gift it Forward database was a hit. Over 1,300 small businesses registered their information on the site for consumers to see. The effort received media sponsorship from WPRI 12, The Rhode Show, iHeartMedia, Cox Media and Lamar Advertising.
The work to build the site continued and another issue arose: Not all small businesses are set up to sell gift cards online. Then came another small business with a solution. Chris Parisi, owner of Providence-based Trailblaze Marketing, offered his time and skills to help the cause.
Lori Giuttari, Chief Operating Office of Providence-based Visual Thrive joined the Gift it Forward team to help with supporting local businesses. Lori and her team created Shop Local Rhode Island, an online directory of small businesses open for business.
The economic crisis hit the small business community very hard, and support was not where it needed to be. Led by Chris Parisi and with the support of the Lt. Governor’s Office, the group organized into a Coalition advocating and giving the members a voice.
In June 2020, they drafted a petition demanding the Governor release 10% of the $1.25B COVID-19 federal funds in the form of small business grants. Weeks later, the Governor listened announcing the Restore RI Grant Program that allocated $50M for small businesses. It was a victory in the right direction, but there was much more work to be done. They have since continued to advocate and give the community a voice, even hosting a successful Car Rally in November 2020.
The Coalition is continuing to grow and will not stop fighting for our small businesses. The power is in our numbers! Join the Coalition today and be part of the movement.