Naj Austin launched a digital subscription for Ethel’s Club members on March 20, days after temporarily shutting its doors during the novel coronavirus outbreak. The day after, personal trainer Irving “Zeus” Hyppolite hosted his first boot camp workout on Instagram Live. And Darnell Reed, owner of two restaurants, has had to temporarily close one of his businesses and lean on other Black restaurateurs in his community to keep business flowing.
These entrepreneurs, like many business owners across the country, are finding ways to ease the financial strain caused by COVID-19. Since the World Health Organization officially named the outbreak a pandemic on March 11, the economy has taken a big hit. Workers across the country have faced layoffs and businesses have had to close their doors. The health crisis has especially created a looming threat for Black business owners who make up only 4.3% of business owners in the country and are at a disproportionate disadvantage when it comes to securing small-business loans.
“There’s this old saying, ‘When America catches a cold, Black America catches pneumonia,’” Ron Busby, president and CEO of the United States Black Chambers Inc., told HuffPost.
But despite the economic downturn, Black entrepreneurs across the country are working to find new ways to adapt in the era of social distancing.
“I’m hearing from people that are already feeling the crunch and are even going to feel it more in the next couple of weeks,” Busby said. “But I’m excited that our firms that are prepared, are taking this time to be locked away in their own homes, are really trying to think about their businesses and how they’re going to come out of this.”
Ryan Wilson and TK Petersen, owners of The Gathering Spot in Atlanta, have had to make a huge shift in the way they approach community. Within the past year, the duo have hosted nearly 2,400 events at its base and worked toward opening locations in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles. Mandates to close nonessential businesses caused them to close the doors to their social club and serve food only via takeout and delivery at the club’s restaurant. Their losses from March, April and potentially May will be significant, Wilson told HuffPost. Although it’s a difficult time, their members and over 100 employees are their priority right now, he said.
“The effort on that front has been to continue to pay and offer employee benefits for our team,” Wilson said, adding that they’d just started an effort to continue to provide meal services to members who can pick up food while their locations are closed to the public. “So we’re trying to care for our folks because it’s unprecedented I think for everybody.”
Recently, The Gathering Spot opened a virtual portal where their members can access discussions and watch parties and other events digitally. On Friday, they hosted a series of roundtables on how COVID-19 is affecting businesses and what steps owners could take to minimize the effects.
Similarly, Austin of Ethel’s Club wants to make sure her members have access to virtual services. With New York’s rapid rise in coronavirus cases, the Brooklyn-based social club decided to shut its doors ahead of the mandate and have been closed for a little over two weeks. She told HuffPost that, though her team of less than 10 employees has been working from home, it almost feels like business as usual.
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