By Aaron Allen
It has been two years since the death of George Floyd and COVID-19 engulfed the health of a nation. If there is a silver lining in all of the chaos, it is that an awareness around social justice was born out of the ashes.
In the wake of the deadly virus and the murder of Floyd that was seen around the world, many Black businesses saw a surge in business as citizens across the country rallied behind the notion that Black Lives Matter to provide overwhelming support for Black-led organizations and Black businesses.
“It was unbelievably beautiful and like they say, ‘George Floyd changed the world,’” says Nikita Mathis, owner of Platinum Plush Fashions, a fashion boutique in South Seattle, and Berry Therapy Chocolate Dip Strawberries, a creative event catering service using fresh fruits in a decorative fashion for client events. “He absolutely did change the world and as a result of that our businesses are thriving, and we are propelling at a fast rate.”
“Everyone around the world, whatever nationality, they just wanted to support Black businesses, they wanted to support Black people in general,” added Mathis. “It seemed like the world was celebrating Black people even to the point of wanting to spend their hard earn dollars with Black businesses, wanting to lift us up and it was just beautiful.”
Mathis admits that she did not receive aid from the large corporate entities that pledged financial resources to support social justice initiatives and local underserved communities, but she did see a considerable jump in revenue thanks to the increased support from non-Black patrons.
“I never thought I would see the day were White people, anybody but colored people wanted to deliberately spend their money with Black owned businesses,” says Mathis. “There was a huge surge that went into full effect once [the conviction of the officers responsible for Floyd’s death] came, and I know a lot of Black business owners including myself really benefitted from that.”
While the injection of cash flow helped many businesses stay afloat during the height of COVID-19, others were not so lucky. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Washington state saw 27% of its businesses close their doors at least temporarily, as an untold number would close their doors for good. With just 53% of businesses statewide receiving a loan or grant to make payroll.
Monika Mathews, owner of QueenCare, a self-care products company located on the corner of 23rd and Jackson in Seattle, also saw a temporary increase in non-Black support of her business but admits that COVID forced her to change some of her philosophies both personally and for her business.
Mathews discovered some of her products were listed as essentials like soap and sanitizers, so she was able to utilize the status of “essential” to keep her doors open. She also looked within herself and taking her own business advice found that her own self-care was necessary for her to deal with the stress of operating a business during COVID in order to make sound business decisions during a pivotal time.
“COVID was absolutely a challenging time,” says Mathews. “It really required that I make quick decisions, but those quick decisions also had to be informed and wise decisions as well. Another thing about making those decisions was having a clear head space and actually being a self-care company, I am about self-care in these stressful times, and this is the importance of self-care because I had a clear mind to make tough decisions”
“COVID really forced me to do a couple of different things,” Mathews continued. “One was pay attention more to my online presence and engaging with customers not just for sales but in general and for promotion and marketing. Also, COVID really challenged me to reach out to my network, it made me look at my network in different ways.”
“I didn’t realize how many people truly supported me at the time that I hadn’t tapped into,” she added. “So, what I did during COVID was tap into my network and selling business to business in bulk and that is what really carried me through.”
Mathews also shared the challenges she faced working to secure the necessary funding to maintain her business.
“PPP and other grant and loan opportunities was definitely a challenge,” says Mathews. “The resources were available but the demand for them was so high, I ran into, in my opinion, a bit of discrimination in that PPP process. I did not receive any PPP aid as well as my bank where I had been a customer for over ten years [initially did not] responded to my application.”
According to Mathews, when she finally did get in contact with her bank about the PPP loan, she was told that her receipts were to low and was denied.
Yet despite the setback, many small businesses, like Queencare, still survived. Mathis tapped into creativity to subsides her revenue by starting another business while she waited and hoped. When covid hit and the government-imposed closures went into effect, Mathis had to scale down and rethink the way she did business.
Fast forward to today, and many business owners have seen the support they initially received from the George Floyd protests wane and timeline for their survival reset. They are still dealing with the impacts of COVID and it may take some of them longer than others to recover.
“Due to the Covid pandemic I had been forced to significantly scale back employee’s hours, which had led to two of my employees to find work elsewhere,” says Mathis. “Rehiring is not an option at this time, again due to minimal hours I am able to provide and now to add the new variant Omicron.”
Business owners like Efrem Fesaha of Boon Boona Coffee believe that the communities that they serve will continue helping them stay afloat by patronizing their business, but they look forward to the days when they can wake up and just focus on the days and weeks ahead.
“We opened in January of 2019 as a brick-and-mortar location and a year later we were celebrating our survival as a brick-and-mortar location, then two months later COVID hit,” says Fesaha. “Because of the state mandates and restrictions, we saw a 50 percent reduction in the number of people and revenue coming through the doors.
“It was very difficult to survive as we had to put our employees on standby. But because of federal aid, because more importantly the support of the community and fellow business owners only now are we able to see light after the last couple years,” continued Fesaha. “The support that we received from our community is what helped us get through this.”
“Without the community we would not have been able to manage,” he concluded.