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Davis, California

Thursday, December 9, 2021

COVID-19 pandemic forces local Black-owned businesses to restructure in order to stay open

Black business owners call for government aid at both the local and state levels

The economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted businesses across the nation. While some businesses were able to adapt to this new economic climate, other businesses had to reduce their hours of operation or close altogether. Black-owned businesses in particular faced added difficulties during the pandemic, according to local Black business owners.

Sac Black Biz is a community organization and social media marketing agency that focuses on supporting Black-owned businesses in Sacramento County. Founder of Sac Black Biz Chris Lodgson explained how the COVID-19 pandemic caused several Black-owned businesses to shut down completely.

“90-95% of Black-owned businesses that start will fail between 1 and 5 years,” Lodgson said. “[Due to the pandemic], 30-40% of Black-owned businesses have already closed their doors, and many of those businesses will never reopen their doors again.”

Zion Taddese, the owner of Queen Sheba Ethiopian Cuisine in Sacramento, explained how she was forced to restrategize her business when the pandemic began. 

Before the pandemic, business was going well for Taddese’s restaurant. Customers would come not just to eat, but also to socialize with each other. When the pandemic began, Taddese adapted her business in order to comply with social distancing guidelines. 

“I had to navigate through a lot of things the whole year,” Taddese said. “It was like a rollercoaster.”

Fungai Mukome, a co-owner of Zim Cuisine in Davis, shared a similar story of how her restaurant transitioned when the pandemic began. 

ZimCusine was booked out with catering events prior to the pandemic, but had to reinvent its method of business by creating a weekly menu and completing a weekly dinner delivery that customers could preorder on their website. 

Chantoll Williams, the owner of Rasta Mama’s Kitchen, in Vacaville reflected on the adaptation of her business.

Williams noted that when the pandemic began, she lost a lot of business because social distancing guidelines no longer allowed for large gatherings. In order to survive, Rasta Mama’s Kitchen had to adapt to focus on contactless delivery. 

“Since there are no grand events I can do, the only way to stay afloat is to do lunches and dinners, and basically be like my own DoorDash,” Williams said. “[Customers] can still experience Jamaica and still experience my family’s recipes, but on a smaller scale.”

Taddese reflected on the added difficulty of being a small Black-owned business. 

“As it is, being a small business is hard,” Taddese said. “Being a small Black-owned business is even harder.” 

Mukome noted that a challenge Black-owned businesses face is the lack of representation. There is no specific initiative from the Davis Chamber of Commerce or from the city of Davis to promote Black businesses. 

“[There] definitely has to be a push from the city to create a program that supports the particular struggles of Black businesses, and a lot of them have to do with opportunities and funding,” Mukome said. “We don’t get the same opportunities and we definitely don’t get funding for our ideas.”

Lodgson advocated for work at the federal level as well in order for long-term change to occur. 

“The federal government needs to pass a reparations program that targets and has specific help for Black businesses in particular,” Lodgson said. “Secondly, the federal government needs to start to create policies that specifically target Black-owned businesses.”

Lodgson further explained that while there are currently policies that target “minority-owned businesses,” Black-owned businesses have their own unique set of needs. 

“We need to be really specific and create policy that is intended for Black-owned businesses specifically because we are a unique group and we have our own unique set of needs,” Lodgson said. “When you sort of aggregate us into these larger groups, what happens is you diminish and you dilute the effectiveness of the actual policies themselves, however well-intentioned you may be.”

Taddese left a final comment regarding the importance of unity.

“If the people are not united, it’s going to be hard for our future generation—for our kids—to catch up on things,” Taddese said. “There is plenty enough in this world to feed everybody.”

Written By: Jelena Lapuz — city@theaggie.org

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