By Jessica Franco
Following George Floyd’s murder, support for Black-owned businesses has grown exponentially in neighborhoods across the United States
According to the University of California Berkeley’s Small Business Bootcamp, “20% of small businesses fail within the first year, 50% fail within the third year, and 70% fail by the tenth year.” Black-owned businesses face even worse survival odds, with 80% of small businesses owned by African Americans failing within the first 18 months. The current coronavirus pandemic has added additional stress on Black small-business owners, with 58% of them reporting that their business’ success is either “at risk” or “distressed.”
Local economist John Husing has stated that African American business owners have struggled to maintain business during the pandemic. “The reason is that most of them are in a variety of sectors that have been clobbered by the pandemic,” Husing stated.
During the first year of the pandemic, the eating-and-drinking-establishment sector, as defined by Husing, has seen a decrease of nearly 40,000 workers in San Bernardino and Riverside counties alone. In 2019, the sector had 136,300 workers; by 2020, the workforce dropped to about 96,800 workers.
According to Husing, the Vice President of Redlands-based Economics & Politics who is heavily involved in the local economy, African American small business owners have concentrated their efforts in retail and consumer services, including small retail shops, barbershops, and nail salons. Within those sectors alone, employment has declined by about 20,000 workers in 2019 alone.
One local business in this sector, Beautiful Divas Hair Salon in Colton, has managed to survive the ups and downs associated with the pandemic closures and local and state regulations to continue to provide exceptional service to clients. On Google Reviews, owner Danal has been praised for her down-to-earth attitude and professional demeanor. Many who have left comments on Google, including Inland Empire transplant Joshlyn, have praised the skill levels and demeanor of the business’ employees. Joshlyn states, “I’ve been looking for a Black hair salon in my area and I’ve found my new spot.”
Many Black-owned small businesses in the area haven’t been as fortunate as Beautiful Divas within the Inland Empire. A review of multiple social media and review sites, including Yelp, Google, and Facebook, has brought to life numerous hair salons that have shuttered their doors in the wake of the pandemic. Some of these shops had only recently opened before state and local regulations began to require that hair salons, nail salons and barbershops close under COVID-19 safety guidelines.
An August 2020 study conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York revealed that the number of small businesses in the United States declined approximately 22% from February to April 2020. The study also found that small businesses owned by African Americans had a decline nearly double that of the national average, with 41% of Black-owned small businesses closing during that period.
I Love Chicken and Waffles, located on Highland Avenue in San Bernardino, was opened by Demico Sherman on January 13, 2021, and continues to buck the trend by thriving during the pandemic. Even despite the national food shortages, costs of increased products, and constantly changing regulations regarding indoor dining, Sherman and his team have been able to remain open more than a year after opening.
Opening his business was not easy for Sherman, as he faced multiple setbacks due to the pandemic. “We initially planned to open the restaurant back in April, but that was all canceled as everything quickly shut down due to the pandemic. We faced a few challenges along the way and we didn’t qualify for any small business relief because our restaurant hadn’t opened yet.”
At the beginning of the pandemic, studies by the Associated Press revealed that funds from the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program(PPP), were not equitably distributed to African-American business owners. Coupled with the fact that more than 80% of Black-owned small businesses fail within the first 18 months, this situation made it even harder for less-established Black-owned businesses to survive during the pandemic.
The tides began to change for Black-owned small businesses following the May 2020 death of Minneapolis resident George Floyd at the hands of police officers in his hometown. According to a study conducted by Groupon and the National Black Chamber of Commerce, 75% of Black-owned small businesses saw a sales increase following Floyd’s death.
One Black-owned business in the Inland Empire that stands out as surviving the odds is the Law Office of Vincent S. Hughes, which is owned and operated by Hughes, who is a lifelong Inland Empire native and alumnus of California State University, San Bernardino. His office has provided a much-needed service to local residents with legal assistance at affordable rates. When discussing his business Hughes said, “I wanted to provide more accessible legal representation to minorities in my community who may have never had the opportunity to even speak with an attorney. African Americans are disproportionately underrepresented in the legal system, leading to increased incarceration percentages and the inability to adequately represent their constitutional rights. My office strives to provide affordable access to justice for those who would otherwise not be able to defend themselves.”
According to a 2021 report from the American Bar Association, Hughes is a member of an extremely limited group of African American attorneys in the United States. Black attorneys make up only 4.7% of all lawyers. When confronted with this statistic, he said “That shows even more why having access to an attorney that looks like the defendant, especially in criminal cases, is crucial. It’s a lot easier for someone to confide and take advice from someone who looks like you and who shares a similar past.”
Although coronavirus has continued to ravage our area for nearly two years, many local Black-owned businesses continue to fight daily to survive. From beauty services to legal services, the Black-owned businesses in the Inland Empire have fought to stay alive and provide critical services to members of our local community.