First published in the Feb. 12, 2022, print issue of the Burbank Leader.
Soon after the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Burbank resident Carmenita Helligar took her regular walk on Magnolia Boulevard and passed rows of closed shops.
As an interior designer specializing in red carpet events, Helligar knew how disruptive the pandemic was to small businesses. And as she met with local business owners, she said in a recent interview, she learned more about the difficulties they were facing — and that they weren’t getting the help they needed.
Helligar couldn’t stop thinking about the issue. Eventually, she said, her husband asked her if they were going to discuss the topic every morning. She was the visionary of the family, he told her — she should come up with an idea.
Helligar did. And two years later, that idea has materialized into Local As Can Bee, a business that helps other small businesses build an online presence.
“I always joke and say that if small businesses are the backbone of the country … then we’re the chiropractor,” she said.
LACB, which launched in January, helps business owners develop a product they can sell online and markets it on their behalf. The business also provides incentives for shoppers to patronize local shops, offering a rewards program for those who spend at least $50 a month at a small business.
And because those small businesses are run by community members, Helligar added, many of those dollars stay in the community. She referenced studies that indicate a significantly higher percentage of money spent at a small businesses go to local workers and other small shops compared to cash spent at larger entities.
“When you are shopping local, you’re paying for dance classes … you’re paying for eyeglasses, you’re paying for your other community members [who are] offering you a service,” Helligar said.
Additionally, though the California economy reopened last summer, Helligar believes small businesses still need help finding additional revenue streams to pay off debt accumulated while their doors were closed.
In a January U.S. Census Bureau survey of businesses in the Los Angeles Metropolitan Statistical Area with between one and 499 employees, more than 71% of respondents said the pandemic has had a large or moderate negative effect on their businesses, though that was a lower rate than the nearly 80% reported in January 2021. The January 2022 survey also indicated that 13% of respondents said they would need to develop an online presence in the next six months, while 34% said they needed to increase marketing or sales within the same.
The LACB website doesn’t yet feature many locations — though it has marketed products from Poquito Más and Helligar’s daughter Destiny, who started a skin care line when she was 11 — but Helligar said she’s working with businesses to help them develop new products. Having lived in Burbank for 18 years, she already has a relationship with some of the business owners. Others are more skeptical, she added, but she believes her service will be effective enough to draw in new clients.
“I feel confident that, once I have major numbers to present, I’ll get even more businesses,” Helligar said. “I’m OK with proving myself.”
She’s partnered with Burbank resident Linda Bessin, who is heavily involved in community initiatives and serves as LACB’s vice chair, and works closely with City Councilman Nick Schultz, whom Helligar credits with helping connect businesses with city services.
Helligar also wears a number of other hats in the community. She’s a member of the Burbank Board of Library Trustees and is involved in diversity, equity and inclusion efforts at the Burbank Unified School District. She is also a board member of Elevate Burbank, a nonprofit co-founded by Bessin that promotes cultural diversity.
LACB is Helligar’s newest community-oriented effort, but she emphasized that the success of her business — like that of other local companies — depends on local support.
“A lot of times, people are so caught up in their own things that they don’t realize that if we come together, we’ll move forward together quicker,” she said. “Our goal is to revive these [stores] one business at a time, and we will not be able to accomplish that unless the community members support it.”