West Town's Semicolon bookstore thought COVID-19 would close it forever until Instagram followers stepped in

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A virtual conference is shining a light on small businesses in Chicago and bringing entrepreneurs together to share their stories of survival during the pandemic.

A West Town book store was forced to close only months after it had opened due to the COVID-19.

"We were feeling afraid," said Danielle Mullen from Semicolon Bookstore & Gallery.

The owner of Semicolon Bookstore & Gallery on Halsted said she feared she would never reopen, gave away all her books in March- more than 5,000.

She shared the entire process on social media.

People in lockdown wanted books and were drawn to Semicolon from social media posts especially as readers intentionally sought Black-owned bookstores.

Semicolon went from 3,500 followers on Instagram pre-pandemic to 67,000. Book orders began coming in from around the world.

"The more people that see us, the more people who can support us, the longer we can survive. It's just that simple," Mullen said.

Mullen will be among the owners talking part in a live streaming celebration of small businesses in Chicago.

"Small businesses need a little bit of more help, our margins are lower. We are giving back a ton to the community and because of that it would behoove anyone to spend more money at small businesses when it going directly back into the community," Mullen said.

The virtual conference began Tuesday and runs through Wednesday through the Instagram of My Block My Hood My City with a variety of small business owners sharing about their work and wares.

"The small businesses represent dreams these are somebody's dreams and hopes. When you support a small business, you support the beautification of your neighborhood, you are supporting your neighbors. It's about people coming together to improve the quality of life in your neighborhood," said Jamal Cole with My Block My Hood My City.

Back at Semicolon, Mullen said her authentic shares on social media made connections with customers near and far.
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