By Barney Blakeney
Last weekend at many of the local Black owned businesses in the metropolitan Charleston region, it was business as usual. Popular soul food restaurants saw their typical patrons, some even saw fewer regulars. Beyond a higher percentage in hotel occupancy and unusually heavy traffic congestion in downtown Charleston, Black businesses saw little evidence of the 40,000-65,000 visitors who came to town bringing with them a $30 million economic impact for the 41st annual Cooper River Bridge Run.
As participants and revelers began to stream into the area last week – only about half the participants came from South Carolina – it became evident by Thursday that Saturday’s bridge run would have little economic impact in the Black community. The hospitality industry began to bustle near the end of the week in anticipation of the three-day financial uptick. Newspapers advertised ‘where to eat, drink and what to do’ for three jam-packed days. But except for the Black characterizations that draw people to Charleston’s food, culture and night life there was not much in terms of economic benefits to the Black community.
The official website for the bridge run touts advantages to sponsors. “The Cooper River Bridge Run is the third largest race in the country and one of the most popular. With an expected 40,000 participants, the Bridge Run is an opportunity for your company to reach a concentrated mass of your target in one weekend. A sponsorship will generate new in-store traffic and visibility to help promote your company and/or products,” it says.
None of that really applies to Black businesses, however. Charleston Minority Business Enterprise Office Director Theron Snype laments there simply aren’t enough Black owned businesses in existence to capitalize on the special events that bring millions of dollars into the local economy. The Southeastern Wildlife Expo held in Charleston in February brought an estimated $50 million economic impact to the local economy.
The reality is, beyond a handful of Black restaurants and tour guide companies, local Black business is not prolific or diverse. “If Black owned restaurants didn’t see a change in their customer base during the bridge run event, other Black owned businesses certainly didn’t. I would guess the economic impact of the bridge run in the Black community was negligible, if not zero,” Snype suggested. “I don’t see any positive outcomes for African American businesses,” he said.
Will that financial scenario change? In a few aspects, Snype said, but the financial infrastructure isn’t in place to develop minority businesses, he added candidly. Business development requires resources. And while there are entities conducting activities that point to those resources, there are no guarantees that lending institutions will provide the most necessary resource – money, Snype said.