Baltimore’s Backbone: How Small Businesses Sustain ‘Smalltimore’

Despite existing in a major city, Baltimore’s small business community is tight-knit, interwoven and passionate about where they live.

Bobby LaPin, owner of Boat Baltimore which sails out of Port Covington Marina, said while city regulations make it difficult to operate, Baltimoreans still work together to persevere.

“Small businesses in Baltimore exist, despite the bureaucracy and all the red tape, and they exist because people in Baltimore love Baltimore,” LaPin said.

Over the last five months, eight reporters at Capital News Service met with more than 70 small business owners and staff across Baltimore to understand how they survive in the era of big box stores and online shopping.

Their reporting was guided by research on how small businesses with high social connections tend to thrive by Vojislav “Max” Maksimovic and Liu Yang from the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. The Baltimore Banner also provided guidance and support for the project.

What reporters found was a bit unexpected: a deeper understanding of how small businesses contribute to the social fabric of Baltimore.

That was a consistent theme in conversations with people such as Debra Keller-Greene of the Greater Baltimore Black Chamber of Commerce, Tunde Tenabe from JNB Beauty in Belair-Edison, Ashley Wylie at Fleurs d’Ave in Druid Heights, and Emma Snyder at The Ivy Bookshop in Mount Washington.

“This feels like ultimately Smalltimore. It’s like our own little, bitty town within this big town,” said Kacey Stafford, owner of Found Studio Shop in the Lauraville neighborhood.

The following series of articles show the richness and resilience of these small business operators.

Christina Brunyate, founder of Lauraville fabric shop Domesticity, said, “I chose to open a business in the same place I live because I am involved here and I want to invest in my neighborhood.”

Capital News Service Baltimore Editor Rob Wells contributed to this story.