Pandemic May Devastate Black Businesses, But Opportunities May Come As Well

Marilyn Hemmingway

By Barney Blakeney

As local businesses prepare to reopen amid the Coronavirus pandemic, the process may be more difficult for Black owned businesses. Gullah Geechee Chamber of Commerce CEO Marilyn Hemmingway said the impact of the pandemic on Black business will be horrendous. However, as an eternal optimist, Hemmingway says the pandemic also may present some opportunities for Black businesses.

Most Black owned businesses already operate marginally, Hemmingway said. Cash transactions are their staple. Closure due to the pandemic meant the cash transactions that were the lifelines of Black owned barber shops, beauty shops and restaurants were cut. Consumers couldn’t come into their businesses. She doesn’t expect many Black owned businesses will survive.

Black owned businesses usually have a thin profit margin and faced with pre-existing challenges to financing and technology, closure caused by the pandemic presents an almost insurmountable obstacle. Many lack generational family wealth to draw upon, she said, so when the businesses closed financial devastation became likely, Hemmingway said.

She added the federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act may not be a viable option for many Black owned businesses.

About 10 percent of all local businesses are Black owned, Hemingway estimates. Many Black businesses are unregistered and can’t access mainstream resources, she said. The lack of a comprehensive national reopening strategy further exacerbates the challenges to Black business, she said.

Still the pandemic will offer some opportunities for those who look for them, Hemingway said. Black businesses should seek not only to survive the pandemic, but to come out of it in a position to take advantage of the opportunities that will be available. Black leadership should be leading businesses in that direction, she said.

The Gullah Geechee Chamber of Commerce has taken that leadership role in some cases. Its “5 Minute Food Finds” profile a Gullah-owned restaurant Monday – Friday on Facebook Live and a YouTube Channel (coming soon). “We’re in the business of helping our Gullah communities grow economy and this is even more crucial during the Coronavirus pandemic,” Hemmingway said.

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