Local entrepreneurs discuss challenges, offer solutions
By Charles Hallman
The idea for the recent MSR multi-part Black business series first came last year during a conversation with Twin Cities Black Film Festival Founder-Director Natalie Morrow. She decried the seemingly low support from Blacks for such annual events as hers.
MSR Editor-in-Chief Vickie Evans Nash later agreed with Morrow’s assertion and assigned me to investigate and report on how true or not true it is. Over the course of several months, after causal and on-record conversations with several local Black business owners, we produced the series beginning in late September.
Rather than ask about how financially successful these business persons are, the MSR instead inquired why they chose to start their own businesses, any unforeseen obstacles they may have faced and overcome, new challenges they currently face, and what advice and tips they might offer to anyone who might be thinking of becoming a business owner.
Nearly all of them, however, said in one way or another that the local Black community could be more supportive of Black-owned businesses. Their reasons for saying this varied and they didn’t reach any consensus as to why this may be.
“Black folk should do business with each other,” believes Golden Thyme Owner Michael Wright.
Eugene Banks, who owns and operates MetroCom Outlet in South Minneapolis, says the Black community, especially locally, seems to have lost the sense of supporting each other, an historic staple in pre-integration days.
Sammy McDowell, who owns and operates Avenue Eatery, points out that the Black community often does not recognize the “hidden treasures” located right in their own neighborhoods. “I believe that to a certain extent,” he explains. “I believe that a lot of times [Black businesses] aren’t visible. People don’t know that it’s a Black-owned [business] — that’s why it is not supported by the community.”
McDowell cited as an example his own shop, located on the corner of West Broadway and Emerson, where there are two fast-food places, a national pizza chain, a Chinese restaurant, and another food-order operation located just down the street from his place. “People coming past with their McDonald’s bags all day and they don’t even know or stop. Hey, we sell food, sandwiches and smoothies in here — come in here and try us out,” says McDowell.
Did we uncover any new ground? Probably not. But we hope we have added some useful information to the ongoing discussion.
It’s estimated that “Black dollars” circulate in our community at a lower rate — up to three times less — than dollars spent by others in their own communities, whether White or other people of color. This is the case not just here in the Twin Cities, but across the U.S. as well.
Whether this has been a cause for many local Black businesses having come and gone over the years is debatable. Personally, I try to spend my money with Black businesses as much as possible.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen too many Black businesses I faithfully patronized close their doors. However, there are some businesses, whether they’re Black-owned or not, that I don’t spend my time or dollars in because of poor customer service.
Furthermore, I know other Blacks who don’t or won’t shop with Black businesses for similar reasons, or who feel they “can’t get a deal,” or simply due to perceived cultural competency, i.e. the belief that White businesses are superior and Black businesses are inferior. The manifestation of that is that Black businesses are often underestimated, underutilized and marginalized.
The “Buy Black” movement has existed elsewhere for several years now but hasn’t picked up much steam locally. “We have to dispel [the myth] that Black folk cannot do business together,” says Wright, who adds he doesn’t favor the idea of a “cash mob” approach to spending Black dollars with Black businesses.
“I love the thought of it, but it needs to be a bit better thought out. I’d rather see 10 to 20 people a day instead of 50 to 100 people in one day, because we couldn’t support the capacity. Let us as a ‘cash mob’ be more organized. Instead of just dropping in [a large number of people], let’s spread it out throughout the Twin Cities so everybody can feel the immediate impact on the bottom line.”
Joseph Wallace, president of Independent Packing Services, Inc. (IPSI), feels he’s already receiving the support of the local Black community. Located in Burnsville, IPSI employs “just under 50 employees,” says Wallace.
“There is tremendous support [from the Black community]” for his firm, he says. “As a community, how do we help and support each other in moving forward? How do we do more business-to-business with each other instead of sending out those revenue dollars somewhere else? We have to bring value and be competitive.”
We hope the Black business series has sparked conversations about businesses owned by Blacks. Do Black businesses deserve our support simply because they are Black? Do they owe us something in order for us to support them? This is debatable, and our series’ intention was not to convince Black readers and others one way or another but to be informative.
Finally, the series that concludes this week isn’t a one-story process, but instead invites more stories to come.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to [email protected]
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