Pillar, a public charity created in 2021 to support small legacy businesses in recovering from the ongoing economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, formally launched with an inaugural round of grantees and an open call for applications in Rainier Valley. In partnership with local organizations, the initiative directs philanthropic dollars to independently owned businesses providing vital jobs, goods and services. The pandemic has hit Seattle’s Rainier Valley, one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the U.S., very hard. Employment dropped 17.1 percent from February to April 2020 and a shortfall of 40,000 jobs remained over a year later, according to King County and the Washington State Dept. of Commerce. Since then businesses have battled ongoing challenges – from labor shortages to supply chain gaps and high inflation.
Pillar identifies and partners with trusted local organizations to build its grantmaking approach. In Rainier Valley, Global Majority Consortium (GMC) co-led initial community outreach and grantee selection. This yielded Pillar’s inaugural round of funding. Grantees include the restaurants Umami Kushi, Island Soul, and Emerald City Fish and Chips; Amy’s Merkato cafe and deli; and Brown Sugar Baking Company. The Elite Collective creative agency and historic venue The Royal Esquire Club are also receiving funds.
“The Pillar grant is oxygen,” said Carlos Imani, owner of Elite Collective. “It’s given us the air we need to continue doing what we’ve been doing for our neighborhood businesses. Everything from branding to websites — which helps them navigate this new normal created by the pandemic.”
Helping those impacted most by COVID-19
Before the pandemic, the average American small business had one month’s cash reserves on hand. Since COVID-19 hit, businesses owned by women and people of color have endured disproportionate hardship due to compounded, longstanding wealth and opportunity gaps. Aid awarded through the federal Paycheck Protection Program was twice as likely to go to white business owners than others. Today, nearly half of BIPOC-owned small businesses are underfinanced compared to a third of small businesses overall, McKinsey & Company found. Pillar has committed to supporting small businesses with an emphasis on those owned by women and people of color in order to prevent further loss and displacement.
“COVID-19 has only widened existing inequities in our country,” CEO Ariel Kelley said. “Pillar is a solution to support businesses at the heart of local communities–places like barbershops, bookstores and restaurants. It’s our aim that efforts in Rainier Valley serve as a blueprint for neighborhoods across the country.”
“The Global Majority Consortium was developed to leverage the Black brilliance in our local network. It creates a pipeline of leaders and entrepreneurs to build generational wealth,” said Baionne Coleman, Founding Partner of GMC. “We need partners and funders like Pillar to work with us in dismantling systemic oppression and funneling the necessary resources back into our communities to create stability and sustainability.”
With a unique IRS exemption, Pillar is the first philanthropic fund able to direct charitable dollars to for-profit entities. Individuals and foundations who contribute to Pillar will receive the same tax benefit as if making a traditional charitable gift. This fund will address COVID-19 recovery only and will be in operation for up to 24 months, ending in 2023. Seattle-born Chris Hansen, who grew up in Rainier Valley, underwrote the start-up costs for Pillar and contributed the initial $5 million for grantmaking. CEO Ariel Kelley is an attorney and seasoned non-profit leader with a decade of experience developing programs for financial empowerment and wealth creation in marginalized communities.
Small businesses located in or near Rainier Valley that have been in operation for three or more years are eligible for an initial recovery grant of up to $75,000. For more information and details about how to apply, or get involved, visit pillarimpact.org.