Summertime is often a chance to relax and take a day off, but in the small Illinois town of Kankakee, local businesses are charging ahead at full speed thanks in part to the power of the internet.
We recently visited four Kankakee businesses and community organizations with Congresswoman Robin Kelly as part of Internet Association's "Internet Community Crawls," and it was a good reminder that small businesses power through year round. The crawl revealed how a town founded in 1853 continues to build on and leverage the technologies of the day to strengthen the community and boost its economy
We visited Kankakee with representatives from leading internet companies, including Facebook, Uber, Yelp, Lyft, Thumbtack, Amazon, Upwork, DoorDash, and Airbnb, to hear firsthand how the internet supports the local economy and strengthens the community. And what's clear is that each of the local businesses we toured uses the internet in distinct ways to support local jobs and reach new customers--all to the benefit of Kankakee's economy.
We first visited Stefari Cafe, where owners Ari and Stefan Fruenze talked about how the internet helped them establish their year-old business into a town favorite. The husband and wife duo said social media, particularly Instagram and Snapchat, along with review sites like Yelp, made it possible to turn their neighborhood coffee shop into a go-to hangout spot for college students and professionals from nearby towns.
The Fruenze's story was just the start. The internet was behind the success stories of each local business we heard from. Take the Majestic Theatre for example. We heard from Amy Rauch, owner of the historic art-deco building, who uses online-based tools to attract customers, book events, and work with customers to seamlessly execute memorable experiences at the Kankakee icon.
Merchant Street Gallery in downtown Kankakee, our third stop of the day, works to advance the careers of artists with autism by creating a venue for them to display their work. Merchant Street, one of the only few galleries of its kind in the country, relies on social media to showcase the artists’ work beyond just Kankakee and online platforms like Amazon Smile and Paypal to increase donations from donors across the country.
The crawl wrapped up with an eye toward the future. We heard from business owners Russell and Laura Lind who opened Papi’s Pizza, one of the newer restaurants in town, as well as local resident Marc Fontanetta who is the logistics manager for BaKBlade, a top Amazon seller. Both are new businesses that rely on the internet. The Linds stressed the importance of the internet in reducing growing pains that small businesses face, and Marc explained that BaKblade sells nearly a thousand units a day thanks to Amazon.
Kankakee business and community leaders are touting the benefits of the internet. Fortunately, they have a representative that's not only listening, but pushing for all of those in Illinois' second district to have access to the internet. The internet industry commends Rep. Kelly for her dedication to keeping the internet fair, open, and free. She clearly understands the critical role the internet plays in the lives of Illinois’ residents.
Small business drives Kankakee. The internet boosts small business. We look forward to our continued work to push for policies that foster entrepreneurship, promote economic growth, and empower local communities through the free and open internet.
President & CEO of Internet Association