Helping Small Black-owned Businesses Survive COVID-19

0617202020

Latest News 6.17.20

Helping Small Black-owned Businesses Survive COVID-19

Small businesses play a critical role in the transformation of underserved communities like those that Beyond Housing serves in North St. Louis County. They are essential for the economic development of these communities—something that is critical for these communities’ future growth and success.

While small businesses everywhere have been hit especially hard by COVID-19, small black-owned businesses like those that Beyond Housing works with have found it even more difficult to survive.

“There’s a lot of folks trying to figure out what to do in the very short term,” said Erica Hallman, an economic development specialist at Beyond Housing who works directly with many business owners in the area. “The number one thing all of our business owners need right now is financial resources for survival.” Getting access to those resources has been particularly difficult for the small business owners in the area.

Beyond Housing has been helping small business owners navigate the application process of the Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loans. Many of these business owners have found it difficult to get approved for loans and assistance.

“The exhaustion that our business owners feel at being asked to fill out a lot of forms to ask for money and then get nothing in return wears down their spirits,” said Hallman, who had to ramp up on programs to help walk businesses through the application process. “It’s really tough to ask people to continue to do all of this labor and keep hoping that something good will happen.”

It’s a far cry from late 2019, when Beyond Housing kicked off a Small Business Network to help these same companies position themselves for growth in a strong economy. “A lot of the needs we knew existed put businesses at a further disadvantage at this time,” Hallman said.

Fortunately, many of the tools and resources Beyond Housing was coordinating then address the same issues that are so crucial to entrepreneurs’ survival now.


Providing a Network of Support

As with all of Beyond Housing’s work within the community, building close trusted relationships with the people the organization serves is key to ensuring success. The Small Business Network was created to establish a close working relationship with local business owners and provide support in every aspect of starting and growing a company.

Like other initiatives Beyond Housing offers, it also came about through feedback from residents of the 24:1 Community—a community comprised of multiple municipalities within the Normandy schools footprint in North St. Louis County—who wanted to ensure they had access to local shops and services, and from the target population of small business owners. The two biggest needs these entrepreneurs identified were for help with marketing and with becoming certified as minority-owned businesses, which opens the door to opportunities to land larger contracts.

Based on this, Beyond Housing has worked with a variety of partner organizations to create in-person events (and now online events and webinars) with experts who could address these requests as well as other challenges that entrepreneurs might not even have on their radar.

For example, Hallman explained, “Small business owners may have had their businesses for several years but never separated their personal and business finances, so we wanted to be able to offer on-site support for setting up business accounts.” This became crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many programs required a business banking relationship in order to apply for aid.

Some of the partners Hallman has recruited to offer information at Small Business Network sessions include:

  • The Small Business Development Center, which offered business counseling mini-sessions on topics like business planning, obtaining permits for new locations or expansions, and finding affordable office space.

  • Federal Deposit Insurance Commission, which offered information about credit.

  • North County Incorporated and the Business Diversity Development department of the City of St. Louis, which offered information about free certification under various minority-owned business programs.

  • Midwest BankCentre and the Heartland St. Louis Black Chamber of Commerce, which offered strategies for reducing businesses’ tax burden while maximizing the amount of revenue recorded, an important balance for getting business loans.

  • The St. Louis Economic Development Corporation, which listed the necessary steps to line up financing from a bank or other financial institution.

Providing Office and Retail Space for Black-owned Businesses

Weathering the current downturn has been paramount for the Crawling Crab, a Cajun seafood restaurant owned by Flavia Moore. She was poised to expand her popular eatery earlier this spring. But, like her peers in the industry, she was forced to lay off employees and closed her doors in March, costing her tens of thousands of dollars in revenue per month—and, perhaps more importantly, she lost the momentum of customer traffic and word of mouth.

Moore is excited to be reopening the Crawling Crab on June 23 in Pagedale Town Center, Beyond Housing’s successful development project that included offices, retail and a healthcare facility. Work is currently underway on a second phase of the project, scheduled to open in early 2021.

“Our goal from the outset was to bring the community goods and services that residents desired and to provide affordable space for community-owned businesses,” said Ken Christian, who oversees economic development for Beyond Housing. The new development already has six tenants lined up—occupying nearly 70% of the space—and the nonprofit has been working closely with them to ensure their continued viability during these uncertain times.

One of the incoming tenants is Goss’Up Pasta and Catering. Because a large portion of the new complex is focused on the food industry—including commercial kitchen space, a culinary training program, retail food outlets, and kiosks where community members can purchase healthy, affordable heat-and-eat meals—Goss’Up is a perfect fit. The company, started by entrepreneur Qiuana Chapple, did a very robust business before COVID-19 hit. Hallman and Christian are optimistic that business owners like Chapple will be able to overcome the current crisis with plenty of the kinds of support that Beyond Housing provides.

Christian explained that the Small Business Network, with its focus on fostering relationships between entrepreneurs and trusted advisors, is a key component in Beyond Housing’s vision for its community-building work beyond COVID-19. Although the pandemic is not something anyone could have anticipated, programs like the Small Business Network are crucial in laying the groundwork for businesses to survive—and even come out more resilient on the other side.

“With the national moment that we’re experiencing around awareness of the need for focus on racial equity and changes at a systemic level, we are also seeing a huge surge of attention on the need to support black-owned businesses in this area,” Hallman said. “It’s great for Beyond Housing to contribute to that. This is work we’ve been doing for a while, but we are stepping into that role even more fully.”

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