‘Baltimore Small Business Stories’ Launches with Photo Essays of Local Entrepreneurs

| November 24, 2020 | 0 Comments

A new website called Baltimore Small Business Stories (BaltimoreSmall.com) recently launched to highlight the unique stories of small business owners in the area. Baltimore Small Business Stories is a photo essay project by Federal Hill resident Jon Bregel and New York resident Rocco Campenelli.

Bregel, who is a documentary filmmaker and a business owner, wanted to start the website to share the stories of small business owners, but also to learn more about how these individuals run successful and sustainable businesses while also remaining grounded and maintaining their humanity in the process.

For the project, he brought in Campenelli who also comes from the film industry as a producer. He too has a passion for community, small business, and nonprofits.

Bregel previously owned a production company in New York City and described the experience as a “hell of a roller coaster.” He ended up walking away from the business because he was “becoming a workaholic” and needed some “personal restoration.”

Part of that restoration was moving back to his hometown of Baltimore. He said New York City is “very overstimulating with sounds and people and buildings everywhere.” He added it “feels like there’s never really a break. Being in my 20s and not having good routes of mediation or getting out in nature, I felt trapped.”

“The difference with Baltimore is it’s more of a down-to-earth place, not as much of a hustle,” Bregel said. He added that Baltimore is a place where you can have personal conversions less focused around “what you do for work.”

Baltimore Small Business Stories is like a “big research project” for Bregel. “I’m connecting with the small business community through these shared experiences about the highs and lows and what makes it worth it. What are the struggles and what do they love the most about their jobs?”

Bregel also wants to build a community of these small business owners, in part so they are “not feeling alone in these trying times.”

Bregel said Humans of New York has been a huge inspiration for him, not only the attention it brings to personal stories in New York, but because the platform it has built has allowed it to raise a lot of money for causes. Bregel is also inspired by the book “Working” by Studs Terkel and the “What I’ve Learned” series on Esquire.

Baltimore Small Business Stories currently has 14 photo essays on the site and the initial goal is to get to 50 stories. Bregel and Campenelli have launched a GoFundMe to make this possible with the goal of raising $18,000 to pay for expenses. Bregel said Baltimore Small Business Stories will be funded by donations and potentially grants in the future.

Each photo essay shows portraits of the small business owners on the job and tells personal stories about their life and the challenges of business.

Nunez Hernandez of H&C Quality Upholstering in Pigtown talks about being an immigrant and the work he did in the White House.

Spencer Horsman of Illusions Magic Bar in Federal Hill discusses growing up in a clown and entertainment family, performing on America’s Got Talent, and starting the business with his late-father Ken Horsman.

Colian Liang of Water Song Yunnan Kitchen talks about using the money he made opening two restaurants in Shanghai, China to continue his education in the United States. He discussed how when he was finally able to open Water Song, stay-at-home orders due the COVID-19 pandemic started the next day.

Abdul Al Akhfash of EzHut Smoke Shop in Federal Hill talks about leaving Yemen, where he is a famous musician, to try and create a better life for his family in the United States. He discusses the struggles of not immediately knowing English or how to run a business.

Stephen J. Tant of Stephen J. Tant Plumbing in Locust Point talks about the stigma of working a blue collar job, the risk he took starting a business, and the importance of plumbers in our society.

Andy Hahn of Afters Café in Federal Hill talks about staying home to run his business while his wife went South Korea for a couple of years to take care of family. He discusses how running his business has taught him that it’s important to hire enough employees so he can spend more time with his family.

Cookie Carroll of Cookie Caroll Salon & Boutique Downtown talks about how her daredevil spirit as the middle child prevents her from ever having an office job and the discrimination she faced as an African American woman in her former career of traveling sales.

Bregel said he was really blown away by the vulnerability of Aaron Jones of Bushelers in Mount Vernon who spoke about the “culture shock” attending art school in the south after growing up in Baltimore.

These are just a handful of the stories currently featured on Baltimore Small Business Stories. Bregel said more will be published soon.

Bregel said he wants to grow the platform, build their social media, and maybe do some events in the future.

Baltimore Small Business Stories

Nunez Hernandez

Spencer Horsman

Stephen J. Tant

Colian Liang

Andy Hahn

Abdul Al Akhfash

Cookie Carroll 

Aaron Jones

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About the Author:

Founder and Publisher of SouthBmore.com, longtime resident of South Baltimore, and a graduate of Towson University. Diehard Ravens and O's fan, father of three, amateur pizza chef, skateboarder, and "bar food" foodie. Email me at Kevin@InceptMM.com and follow me on Twitter at @SoBoKevin.