Creating human connections is the new superpower. Despite the need to physically stay apart, the path forward for small businesses means becoming more connected than ever before. The isolation caused by COVID-19 has ignited a need in all of us to feel seen, heard and cared about — not just by our family and friends, but by the businesses we patronize.

Perhaps more than an expectation, there is a hope that our trusted corner grocer, bookshop or gym will fulfill our needs for goods, services, empathy, community and communication. Like the owners featured below, small businesses that flex their nimble and fluid muscles, elevating virtual and in-person interactions, will be poised to succeed post-COVID, when the desire for enhanced human experiences will be everlasting.

 Customer purchasing flowers from Uprooted Flower Truck.
A fully functional florist on wheels, Uprooted brings floral experiences to corporate and residential customers in New York City. — Uprooted Flower Truck

Ashley (Custer) Heckler, owner & creative director, Uprooted Flower Truck

Who we are: NYC’s first mobile florist and event design studio.

We've been trying to be honest with ourselves and our customers. Everyone is under extra stress and worry right now and it's important to stay human. Everyone has a job to accomplish, sales are happening and the economy churns, but we're making sure to take the time to acknowledge our surroundings.

Simply checking in with a client before launching into a pitch can make a relationship (and perhaps the person's day) better. Flowers and plants are a happy place for people and it's fun to provide that during this time. We've absolutely noticed an increase in plant curiosity, which is a fun upside to people spending their days at home. Although most of our income typically comes from events, it's been fun to make more deliveries to customers and see our subscriptions income grow. We've truly appreciated our community during this time. Follow Uprooted Flower Truck on Instagram.

 Person holding up an ice cream cup from Sweet Peaks Ice Cream.
Sweet Peaks Ice Cream is a Montana favorite with unique flavors inspired by Rocky Mountain life. — Sweet Peaks Ice Cream

Marissa Keenan, founding partner, Sweet Peaks Ice Cream

Who we are: A family-owned craft ice cream shop based in Whitefish, Montana, featuring creative flavors of ice cream and sorbet made with fresh, locally sourced ingredients.

The pandemic has forced us all to examine how we connect with our guests and our team in the hospitality sector. We have always emphasized community and connectivity within our company, but that was much easier when we could be physically closer together.

As a company that has stores across a large geographic expanse, we were already skilled at creating connectivity when not physically possible. Through social media and digital platforms, including phone calls, we can keep connected with our teams. Our guests are also seeking connection and can do that via social media at our encouragement. In the stores, we make sure to welcome our guests with enthusiasm despite our masks hiding our smiles. We train on an increased need for hospitality and connection. The words we use in the shops, including the signage and attitudes, are ones of positivity. We think about how we can connect and what we can do instead of what we can't.

Hospitality is not a moot point just because we are in a pandemic. Instead, hospitality and connection are more important. We also offer all different ways for our customers to enjoy their ice cream: Through online sales, easy pickups and delivery services, we can still be a part of our guests daily joys. Follow Sweet Peaks Ice Cream on Instagram & Facebook.

 Models wearing clothing created by D'IYANU.
From clothing that promotes self-expression to a focus on the highest level of community service, D'IYANU connects with its customers through countless meaningful initiatives. — D'IYANU

Addie Elabor, founder & CEO, D'IYANU

Who we are: A Norristown, Pennsylvania-based designer of bold print, African-inspired clothing for women, men and kids.

Our customers are at the forefront of all we do and we're always seeking to engage them. We manage our customer service in-house in order to maintain responsiveness, manage quality and tailor messaging to meet our customers' needs. We offer phone and live chat support along with email, Facebook and Instagram direct message support.

Last year, amid the pandemic, we created content to help our customers. We partnered with experts to share tips on personal finance, mental health and overall well-being. We started making masks for our customers before it became mandatory. When masks were scarce in the beginning, we donated close to 25,000 masks to communities and individuals in need. On Juneteenth (June 19, 2020), we launched a new collection and donated 19% of that day's revenue to Equal Justice Initiative and the National Society of Black Engineers, two organizations that were among those recommended by our customers. Each was awarded $6,000.

We always try to connect with our audience to gain insight on which organizations matter to them and we donate to them. We also donate to the Boys and Girls Club of Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Whenever we're thinking of a new collection, we reach out to our audience in our D'IYANU VIP Facebook groups (close to 8k members) for their feedback on styles and prints. We always want to get them involved in what we do. Follow D'IYANU on Instagram & Facebook.

 Scene from a wedding with bride and groom lifted in chairs.
EBE Events and Entertainment goes to great lengths to create strong connections between its talent/performers and customers as together they plan events of a lifetime. — EBE Entertainment

Steve Meranus, partner, EBE Events and Entertainment

Who we are: A Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-based, full-service entertainment, event planning and production company.

It has definitely been a challenge, but we have embraced technology! We have moved to virtual one-on-one conversations between performers and prospects/clients. Prior to locking down, most of our interactions were brief and in the content of live showcases. Since we currently cannot have guests into our theater, we now utilize Zoom and integrate the client with the talent for longer and more in-depth conversations and fact-finding.

Having services such as Zoom, Hangouts, Facebook Live, etc., has made it possible to stay truly connected and, amazingly, it has really brought us together in a meaningful way — making the initial, and subsequent, interactions so much more personal. The reactions from couples when they realize how impactful our approach at managing a party is, in addition to the level of talent we bring, has been amazing. It has made it easier to share our benefits with prospects as they are able to be focused on so many additional details they had not considered or knew were so important to the success of their event. Additionally, we have been creating Zoom music and holiday videos with our performers to share with everyone in an effort to stay connected musically and continue to give our performers a creative outlet. Follow EBE Events and Entertainment on Instagram & Facebook.

 Gift-wrapped book by The Book Bus.
Each month, The Book Bus’ book club members receive a beautifully wrapped book and engage in discussions that bring literary-minded people together virtually. — The Book Bus

Melanie Moore, owner, The Book Bus

Who we are: A Cincinnati, Ohio-based bookstore on wheels.

I introduced an online book club in 2020. It was a wonderful way to not only stay connected to my customers, but for my customers to stay connected to one another. The book choice is a surprise and it is delivered wrapped, along with a tea inspired by the book’s setting and a specially designed bookmark to match the book.

I try to choose a range of genres, so each month is a different experience. I work hard to choose books that folks haven’t read or have never even heard of. Some books come from the U.K. and aren’t available locally, while others might be authors or titles that are great books but maybe aren’t widely known. With membership, they also receive access to a private Facebook group to discuss, share and hear thoughts about the monthly book choice. It's also become a space to just stay connected and talk about all things bookish. This has been a wonderful way to build community!

I originally started the book club in January for a four-month period to keep in contact with customers and supplement business since I don’t do a lot of pop-up events during the winter. But with the outbreak of the pandemic and my public events being canceled, I extended the book club through October. I also hosted a Secret Santa book exchange in December with members of the book club. It has been extremely successful and I've had customers tell me it was the bright light that kept them going in 2020. Follow The Book Bus on Instagram & Facebook.

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