By Andrew Keshner
George Floyd’s death last year and the following mass protests put the spotlight on Black-white inequality in all forms, including the challenges for Black-owned businesses.
Since that time, data suggests consumers have increasingly put their money where their mouth is, by spending more at Black-owned businesses and restaurants.
The question is how much can that help after these businesses have been especially bruised by the pandemic?
On Tuesday, a jury found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death.
In the reactions to the verdict, some observers — including President Joe Biden — hoped the moment would be a turning point towards a more just future.
Some Black business leaders hope part of the change is a deeper commitment from customers and corporations to keep Black-owned businesses in mind when they go shopping or search for a new service vendor.
“There is definitely a more conscious and stronger sense of social equity,” said Larry Ivory, president and CEO of the Illinois State Black Chamber of Commerce, as well as the chair of the National Black Chamber of Commerce.
Some numbers are encouraging. For example, Yelp /zigman2/quotes/201334325/composite YELP -0.08% users became increasingly aware of who owned the businesses they frequented, data shows.
From February 2020 to February 2021, searches for Black-owned businesses jumped 3,085%, according to information released this month from the website that helps consumers find and review local businesses.
The search rate increased 4,077% for Latino-owned businesses, 264% for women-owned businesses and 130% for Asian American-owned businesses.
Yelp users were also increasingly cognizant of who they were reviewing. The mention of Black business owners in reviews increased 195% from February 2020 to February 2021. It climbed 76% for women owners and 58% for Latino owners.
“People are rallying around small business,” Ivory said.
But, like so much during the pandemic, the rebound has been uneven in businesses that are getting back on their feet. In Ivory’s home state, 30% of Black-owned businesses have closed. And other problems persist, like access to capital, he said.
But Ivory is hopeful. “If ever there’s a time for progress, the time is now,” he said.
EatOkra , an app that connects users with local Black-owned restaurants, bakeries, cafes, food trucks, bars and wineries, had a 4,000% increase in app downloads from the time between Floyd’s May 25, 2020 death to Chauvin’s guilty verdict. In that time, the app linked more than 300,000 diners with Black-owned eateries.
“Consumers made their voice loud and clear that support of Black-owned businesses and restaurants was the top priority,” said Anthony Edwards Jr., EatOkra’s co-founder and CEO.
75% of approximately 400 Black-owned small businesses said they saw an uptick in business between June and the end of July, according to a survey from Groupon /zigman2/quotes/207356672/composite GRPN +1.56% and the National Black Chamber of Commerce.
A Groupon spokesman noted that user searches for “Black-owned” increased almost 400% last year, compared to 2019.
Pandemic dug a deep hole
The surging interest is certainly welcome, but the pandemic has dug a deep hole for Black-owned businesses and other minority-owned businesses.
The number of active Black-owned businesses fell 41% from February 2020 to April 2020, according to one study looking at the pandemic’s initial shockwave. There was a 17% decline for white-owned businesses in that time.
It’s stayed rough as 2020 wore on.
Some 67% of Black- and Asian American owned firms said they had to reduce operations last year, according to an annual Federal Reserve Bank survey of firms owned by people of color; 54% of white-owned firms reported reductions.
Another 92% of Black-owned businesses said they were experiencing financial strain, which was up from 85% in 2019; 79% of white-owned businesses reported financial difficulties, up from 65% in 2019.
The federal government offered financial lifelines to businesses in its Paycheck Protection Program, which extended potentially forgivable loans: 61% of Black-owned firms received PPP money, versus the 85% of Asian American and 82% of white businesses.
Many times, Ivory said, that boiled down to the lack of a previous banking relationship between the business owner applicants and the banks serving as the place to apply for the loans.
When it comes to getting money and support for Black communities, Ivory said steps like charitable donations to organizations are laudable.
But frequenting minority-owned businesses and supporting the businesses chambers that support them are “the best return on investment you can get,” he said.