Chicago Hospitality United is a grassroots effort to raise funds for hourly hospitality workers affected by the mandated shutdown of bars and restaurants to contain COVID-19. Wade McElroy, co-owner of Leisure Activities and friend of Stock came up with the idea the morning of Saturday the 14th after seeing business in his bars, Ludlow Liquors and Young American, die down to a trickle amid fears of the looming virus.
Later that day, Wade and our co-founder Tim attended an ad-hoc meeting in Bucktown where industry leaders gathered to discuss the effects of the health crisis on their businesses. Governor Pritzker was set to address the public later that afternoon to shed light on the situation and likely announce a shutdown of bars and restaurants. The whole room saw the writing on the wall, but in the meantime Chicago’s restaurateurs opened up to each other about their fears and strategies for weathering a storm that no one could possibly prepare for.
For the past eight years, our business has been supplying these bars and restaurants with uniforms, so when they’re unable to work, we are too. We know the competitive nature of the restaurant industry, the narrow margins that can make or break a business, and dependency bar and restaurant employees have on tips for their livelihood. The employees would be the most directly affected. We knew that government relief wouldn’t come quickly, and that these folks would need income asap.
So we decided to do what we do best: make clothes. We sprung into action tapping friend and hospitality PR guru, Jenna Liberman, owner of Slow Down Co. to help with the effort and messaging. Within a day we formed Chicago Hospitality United with a simple mission: raise as much money as we can, and distribute it to those who need it as quickly as possible.
By Monday morning, Stock’s designer and co-founder Mike had cooked up a graphic tee design that we planned to put up for sale at noon. In the meantime, we started a Google Sheet where bars and restaurants could sign up for their employees to receive funds from the sales. Unsure of how much money we could raise, we decided to cap the list at 100 bars and restaurants to prevent diluting the proceeds to negligible amounts. The list filled within a day, which was bittersweet because although we could help a lot of people, we’d have to start turning others away. Thankfully our friends and neighbors at Luckyprints reached out offering to create discounted merch for businesses that didn’t make our list in time, so they could monetize and hopefully save the brands they’ve worked so hard to build.
Jenna created a comprehensive media plan that provided participating bars and restaurants the tools to promote the tshirt through their social media networks and mailing lists. Monday afternoon, we launched the tee in two colorways and watched as the first few orders trickled in. Once participating businesses began posting about the effort, orders flooded in. In the first 24 hours, we had raised almost $40,000 with no sign of slowing down, and knew we’d have to scramble to find the most effective way to manage and distribute the funds.
By the end Wednesday, we’d raised over $80,000, with a new collection about to launch. Our partner Jim started hustling to find a non-profit to act as a “fiscal sponsor” for C.H.U., eventually working out an agreement with Dorri McWhorter, CEO of the YWCA. Partnering with an established non profit helped ensure these funds would get to the right people, while eliminating tax liability and providing a strong paper trail.
A couple hours after the initial launch, friend and artist Cody Hudson of Struggle Inc. and Land & Sea Dept. offered to contribute a design for more products. The concept was a vintage text inspired graphic with a simple message: “Love One Another (and support hospitality workers).” On Thursday March 19th, we launched the presale on Cody’s collection, consisting of a tee, sweatshirt, hat, tote, and bumper sticker.
Meanwhile, Wade linked up with reps from Bacardi who very generously offered to cover the cost of the tees from Cody’s collection so that all of the proceeds from those sales could be donated rather than the net proceeds. By the end of the first full week, our gross funds raised was over $155,000.
On March 26th, 10 days after launching our initiative, we made our first $100,000 donation to the YWCA. By the end of the first week of April, once we've covered and tallied up all our cost of goods sold, shipping charges and Shopify fees, we will donate the remaining profit to the YWCA for distribution.
While sales continued to come through the Stock website, three raffles popped up to help raise money for the cause. Sam Goldbroch sold tickets to win a handmade chef’s knife, and Danielle Chutinthranond of Monsoon Pottery raffled a set of 4 brushstroke plates. Our friends at Notre raffled a pair of handmade Air Max-inspired rugs by local artisan Moira Quinn.
Sales for Cody’s pieces ended at noon on Sunday, March 29th raising over $50k with the following item totals:
Vintage White Tee: 510
Corduroy Cap: 371
Crewneck Sweatshirt: 288
Bumper Sticker: 82
At the time of writing (1pm on March 30th), just two weeks since the project’s launch, we’ve raised over $183,000 in net sales. All pre-sale items are in production and will begin shipping in 2-3 weeks.
It's been inspiring to see so many people rally behind Chicago's hospitality workers during such uncertain times, so a massive THANK YOU to all who have shown up to support the cause! We have one more collaboration in the works that will likely launch in the next few days. Our friends at Virtue Cider have very generously committed to donating toward the cost of goods sold for the new piece, so stay tuned!