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Small businesses work to stay afloat

By Matthew Artz Daily Planet Staff
Friday November 15, 2002

Owning a business is supposed to be the pinnacle of the American dream. But for many south and west Berkeley entrepreneurs in the midst of recession, being self employed has been a tough and lonely occupation. 

To get local merchants out of their shops and offices and put them in constructive conversation with one another, Berkeley business groups Wednesday sponsored the first-ever Business Mixer for south and west Berkeley merchants. 

Besides swapping business cards, the merchants traded client names and talked about joint business and advertising ventures. 

These small business owners operate in the neighborhoods with the city’s highest unemployment rates, and for local merchants who rely primarily on neighbors for business, these are challenging times. 

“The economy is hitting [the merchants] hard,” said Roger Asterino of the city’s Office of Economic Development. “Unfortunately in a bad economy businesses in lower income areas get hit first.” 


To get by, many local businesses are finding ways to cut costs and expand their customer base. A collection of shops on Dwight Way and San Pablo Avenue have agreed to pool their resources to buy advertising for the holiday season together. 

“In this economy you have to network like crazy or else you’re out of business,” said Mark Weiman who owns a printing business on Adeline Street. 

He met another printer who specializes in small copy jobs. Because Weiman does more sophisticated projects they agreed to refer customers to one another when the other was better suited to the job. 

Traditional business owners were not the only ones making contacts. Denice Cox, director of a non-profit youth drill team and drum squad met an independent filmmaker who might make a promotional video of the squad. 

Such alliances are even more important this year merchants say because the city, facing mounting budget deficits, has not funded a “Shop in Berkeley” holiday campaign. 

The relationship between the merchants and the community works two ways. While merchants rely on local residents for the bulk of their business, merchants also provide many neighbors with job opportunities. 

Mansour IdDeen, head of a non-profit job training agency, said small businesses are more likely than larger companies to hire from within their neighborhoods. 

Event organizers insist that there is an important social element to mixer as well. 

“Self employed people are isolated at home. This makes it fun for them to come out and meet one another,” said Betsy Morris of the West Berkeley Neighborhood Development Corporation (WBNDC), which sponsored the event along with the South Berkeley NDC and the Adeline Alcatraz Merchants Association. 

Pam Smith, an independent web designer, said she hoped she drummed up some business, but added that she was happy just to meet people dealing with similar concerns. 

“When you go through a slump, you always feel like you’re the only one suffering, but then you realize that everyone is in the same boat,” she said. 


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