As black-owned businesses battle pandemic, many find lifeline online

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Mikey Coale knows how to take inspiration from the culture and serve it like delicious ice cream. He’s created flavors based on Jay-Z, Hillary Clinton, and Foxy Brown, as well as Southern Hospitality and The Incredible Hulk.

But during the pandemic, he found himself having to get creative in a different way: how to make enough money to keep his Manhattan and Harlem, New York-based Mikey Likes It ice cream shops alive. . So he returned to his employees, promising them that if they continued to jostle each other, they could get through this crisis.

“I decided to say, ‘guess what, guys, if you believe in me standing, I need you to come over to work, and we’re going to make it work,” Coale said.

Part of that meant hand-wrapping jars of ice cream and taking orders through Facebook Messenger. From that point on, Mikey and his team were personally bringing their treats to customers.

“When people saw me actually delivering ice cream, they understood the struggle we’re in,” Coale said. “And thanks to COVID, we got in cars and bought their ice cream from them. ”

Businesses across the United States are suffering from pandemic restrictions and the public health crisis, but there is evidence that minority-owned businesses have suffered the most. According to a recent Facebook study, 70% of businesses owned in majority-minority areas that reported declining sales saw an estimated 50% drop during the pandemic. More than a third of businesses in these regions have closed their doors, a rate higher than the 22% rate in non-minority communities.
Black-owned businesses in particular have been hit hard. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, existing problems such as the lack of relationships with banks and declining corporate savings have been further exacerbated by the coronavirus crisis. Black-owned establishments are also more likely to be in COVID-19 hotspots, and help is also scarce, with the government’s PPP loan program reaching only 20% of eligible businesses in states with the most large number of black-owned businesses.

“In fact, a lot of them were suffering from not having enough capital,” said Irene Walker, director of the Facebook Elevate program. “They see their doors close, open, come and go.”

Walker founded Facebook Elevate, a free training program for black and Latino-owned establishments to teach them how to use online marketing tools. This has become especially important during the pandemic, as many businesses have to pivot online to continue. Facebook has also given $ 200 million in grants through June 2020 to black-owned businesses, creators and nonprofits to help them survive at this time.

“Once you master the skills to use them, you can almost use any platform to market your business,” she said. “And our goal is for these companies to be successful regardless of the platform.”

Walker was inspired by her father’s journey as a physician who opened a private practice.

“As I saw the decline of black-owned businesses that I also frequented, it reminded me of those memories I had of my father who was also an entrepreneur,” she said. “He also struggled to access the resources to grow his business. ”

The Vanity Beauty Bar in Flatbush, Brooklyn, has already seen many setbacks that it has had to overcome. After struggling to get loans, best friends Patrick Celestin and Dave Gachelin decided to invest their own money and labor in their vision for a nail salon that accepts all women in the neighborhood where they grew up.

“Opening a business in your community was basically one of my aspirations, and the fact that we were able to do it was only one of the goals I was able to achieve,” Celestin said.

But a fire and other city inspections delayed their opening from May 2018 to 2020. They had to fix many violations they were unaware of when they rented the location and rehired staff. Then the pandemic hit and they had to start over.

“The court of public opinion is something we all face,” Gachelin explained. “They’ve already made their decision on the nail salon industry… New York state has kind of vilified the in-person services, the gyms.”

Fortunately, Celestin and Gachelin were able to secure one of Facebook’s grants, which allowed them to pay off their debts and purchase PPE, including plastic shields, hand sanitizers, and other equipment that they could use. would allow it to operate in accordance with state directives. They also digitized their dates through a Square pilot program, which helped them organize and social distancing and accept non-cash payments.

They also thrive thanks to the neighborhood and its support, Célestin said.

“The community is very united, so we support each other,” he said. “And what people don’t understand is that without supporting businesses in the community, we have no way to survive.”

Mikey Likes It Ice Cream’s Coale added that if you stick to your vision even in tough times, anything is possible.

“Survival is definitely the key,” he said. “We fight like everyone else. The difference is that we remain persistent and dedicated to our message.”

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