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Community support, Black Lives Matter movement have helped local Black-owned businesses

Community support, Black Lives Matter movement have helped local Black-owned businesses

Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy
 
| Rockland/Westchester Journal News
Vivian McKenzie – Kathleen’s Tea RoomVivian McKenzie talks about her business Kathleen’s Tea Room, while at the Main Street in Peekskill location Dec. 4, 2020.WESTCHESTER, N.Y. – At the start of 2020, Vivian C. Mackenzie had big plans for her small business.Mackenzie, the owner of Kathleen’s Tea Room in Peekskill, New York – known for its afternoon tea service featuring scones and finger sandwiches – was planning to celebrate her 10th year in business with a new product: a make-at-home scone mix.She also was hoping to increase her revenue by 3% with new marketing efforts and catering for corporate events.Instead, as the coronavirus pandemic raged on and indoor dining was shut down, Mackenzie had to let four employees go. Her revenue was down 90%.The make-at-home scone idea, essentially a new business, also had to be shelved.While the pandemic played a part, MacKenzie said another struggle she faced was a lack of access to the necessary financing she needed to do labeling, testing and packaging. Holiday shopping: Will COVID-19 vaccine shipments delay your holiday gifts?We’re using way more plastic: Bags, forks and containers are everywhere during the pandemic, increasing pollution”I think it’s because Black small business owners tend not to have access to the capital that other businesses do,” she said. “I was not able to get a loan until COVID and it didn’t matter that I had profits hand over fist every year.”The pandemic has had a devastating effect on small businesses across the country, but it has been especially brutal for Black-owned firms. The number of Black business owners in the U.S. fell by 41% from February to April, compared to 17% of their white counterparts, according to a report by the National Bureau of Economic Research.In August, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York released a study which showed that Black-owned firms were also more likely to be located in COVID-19 hot spots, meaning these businesses were dealing with the “double jeopardy” of the health and economic crises. But new numbers released by the Census Bureau might point to signs of a revival. The data  suggest an uptick in Black-owned businesses in October, surpassing February numbers by 5.4%, according to a preliminary analysis by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. In comparison, white-owned businesses saw an uptick of 0.4% in the same period.Some local businesses are attributing the increase to the support they have received as a result of the Black Lives Matter movement. Dave King, who with his mother Patricia owns Caribreeze Vegan Delight, a Jamaican plant-based restaurant in Spring Valley, N.Y., said business has never been better.Although indoor dining had been shut down – the restaurant only seats nine so that wasn’t an issue – takeout orders doubled from the previous year.“Our business really picked up initially because people were worried about coronavirus and meat processing plants and wanted to be safe and stay away from meat,” he said. “Then in the aftermath of George Floyd, people wanted to support Black businesses when they started talking about Black Lives Matter. My orders went up by five times. We were kind of slow on business and the pandemic is what saved us.”Many online directories of Black-owned businesses, including one started by the singer Beyoncé, have emerged in recent months.Vanessa L. Seide said the pandemic also saved her company, Very Lovely Soles, a Bedford Hills, N.Y.-based online shoe company specializing in flats. “Once things started opening up, I think people started supporting small businesses first and then with the Black Lives Matter movement, they came out to support Black businesses. So I was fortunate to get support in both of those aspects,” she said. “This lady in the city posted my information on her website and I had 20 orders that one day. I have never had that happen before. My overall sales are up 35% compared to last year.”Black owned business owner has seen an increase in 2020 businessVanessa Seide, owner of Very Lovely Soles, has seen an increase in sales in 2020, which she attributes partly to support for Black owned businesses.Black businesses still struggleChris Bibbins had to shut down his business, Hill Top Barbershop in Spring Valley, N.Y. from March until June.It’s open now, but business has been down by more than half.“With the pandemic, a lot of people just don’t want to come out to get a haircut, you know, and I use all the precautions. We have separated the stations, we use hand sanitizer, we disinfect the place. Every time someone gets out of a chair, we sprayed a chair down, we disinfected,” he said. “I mean, what else can you do if the people just don’t want to come to the barber shop?”Bibbins, who works for the highway department in the Town of Ramapo, N.Y., said he is behind on rent payments on the property.“Thank goodness I have another job. I wouldn’t be able to survive,” he said. “I am barely staying afloat here. It’s getting tough.”So far, Bibbins said he has not sought a loan.“I don’t want to break myself with any other type of debt, so I stayed away from it,” he said.“When you think about how businesses start, and how they grow, personal capital, personal assets are so important to both the foundation of a small business and also its ability to secure capital,” said Claire Kramer Mills, assistant vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.“Very often, Black-owned businesses are starting with a financial disadvantage. On top of that, there are profound differences in banking relationships.”Chris Bibbins, owner of Hill Top Barbershop in Spring Valley, talks about his businessChris Bibbins, owner of Hill Top Barbershop in Spring Valley, talks about how his business was affected by the pandemicPayment Protection Plan helpsVivian MacKenzie was able to get a loan through the Payment Protection Plan, which Congress established to aid small businesses as part of the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. It helped her to keep Kathleen’s Tea Room open, but she said getting access to capital had always been a struggle.”I don’t think a lot of business owners know that they need to really build a relationship with their banker at a smaller bank versus going to some of the bigger banks where you’re just a number,” MacKenzie said.Seide, founder of Very Lovely Soles, said that after seven years in the business, she was getting ready to close shop at the start of the year.  “I couldn’t compete with Amazon and other big-name companies,” said Seide, who went into business for herself after 13 years at Nine West. She sourced materials from Italy and manufactured her shoes at a factory in China. “I was going to sell my inventory and not have the shoe collection anymore.”Now, Seide said she plans to go full force and is getting ready to reorder some of her shoes.That would be in keeping with data from the Census Bureau, which show that after the number of active Black-owned businesses nationally had dropped to 634,874 in April (a 41% decrease since February), it jumped back up to 1,133,727 in October, even surpassing February numbers which stood at 1,075,778. “The devil is in the details,” said Mills. “When you look at the aggregate numbers, you can tell a happy story that looks like they had come back. That means that either businesses that were on hold were reopened or new ones were started. But are people starting business side hustles because they lost their full-time job and can’t find employment? And for African American-owned businesses, it’s disproportionately likely to be a solo gig.”Mills said the new data suggest there’s a pivot going on around consumer preferences, especially how they’ve shifted during the pandemic and what they’re going to look like after the pandemic.In Peekskill, Macknezie said she has received support from customers who want to support Black businesses.”Whether it’s Black-owned or not, it’s just important to support your local businesses. These are the businesses that are here, your butchers, your dress shop owners, your bakers, these are the businesses that have been here and supported the communities,” she said. “And we really want them to still be in business at the end of this.”Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy covers women and power for the USA Today Network Northeast. Click here for her latest stories. Follow her on Twitter at @SwapnaVenugopal or email her at svenugop@lohud.com

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