It’s been less than a week since state officials ordered all non-essential businesses to close in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus, and Black-owned business owners already are starting to feel the pinch.
“It’s catastrophic for everybody,” said Keven Parker, who owns Ms. Tootsie’s Restaurant Bar and Lounge and Keven Parker’s Soul Food Café. “I’m just trying to stand firm and support my employees.”
Parker says some food vendors are not getting orders, so they are afraid for their survival.
He is particularly concerned about whether many of the city’s African American-owned businesses will be able to survive this crisis.
“How many of these minority businesses are going to bounce back from this?” Parker asked.
“What will happen if they can’t bounce back?”
The city and the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation are working on a program to support small businesses, including a mix of new grants and zero-interest loans for those that make under $5 million in annual revenue. Officials are still working on the details, and they are asking businesses impacted by the coronavirus-related closures to fill out a survey to help them in their planning. The survey can be found at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/NHZR5JQ
An order from Mayor Jim Kenney on Monday forced the closure of all non-essential businesses, such as bars, barbershops, hair salons, movie theaters, clothing stores, amusement facilities, event halls, fitness clubs and night clubs through March 27 and possibly longer.
Auto repair stores, grocery stores, supermarkets, mini markets, pharmacies, hardware stores, stores that sell construction materials, stores that sell hygiene products, and stores that sell household consumer products may stay open.
A stricter order issued by Gov. Tom Wolf on Thursday has forced all businesses that are not “life-sustaining” to close.
And restaurants may remain open, but only for delivery or take-out service.
“I hope the state and city comes through with funding,” Parker said.
“I hope that they don’t have to go through red tape to get the funding. People need aid immediately.”
Parker is making adjustments so that Ms. Tootsie’s can start offering takeout dinners Fridays through Sundays.
He is rotating employee hours to ensure they have some form of income coming in. Some of Parker’s employees can’t work because they don’t have childcare for their children. He also employs college students who had to leave the city to return to home, because their campuses have been closed.
“There is no way you could have prepared for this,” said Jonathan Jacobs, the founder of ETHOS GSFM (Grooming Station for Men) upscale barbershop.
“Two weeks ago we were doing great. We were having a banner month. It’s just amazing how an epidemic like this can impact a business … It just goes to show that as you take on a challenge of running a business and you start to grow that business as a team, you have to be ready for anything that comes your way, stay calm, get your advisors together and figure out the best plan of attack.”
Natalie McNeil, the owner of Ends Hair Design and Day Spa, is trying to cope with the temporary closure. Her salon has been in business for more than three decades. She’s been brainstorming for when this period passes.
“We’ve weathered a lot of storms before throughout the 33 years in business, but having a stable, solid foundation is helping,” McNeil said.
“I’m glad that over the 33 years that I’ve been a saver. I always remember people saying save for a rainy day.”
As a graduate of Community College of Philadelphia’s Power Up Your Business program, she has been receiving information about programs that businesses can tap into for assistance.
“Hopefully we will be getting some help or relief,” McNeil said.
African American Chamber of Commerce of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware President Donavan West suggested that all businesses strengthen their online presence and continue communicating with their customers.
Businesses that are able to stay open should reiterate the precautions they are taking to provide a safe space for their customers, West said.
“This is an opportunity for you to really strengthen your relationship with your customer base during a crisis because people will remember who was there during emotional times,” he added.
Jenea Robinson, owner of natural beauty supply store Marsh + Mane, is one business owner who has been doing just that.
“We’re hanging in there and just trying to get people to support online and seeing what we can do virtually to still help customers,” Robinson said.
“I offered a virtual consultation so that if you have questions about a product, you’ll be able to call or e-mail me and we’ll be able to pick something out for you.”
West said this crisis serves as a wake up call for the city’s informal business economy. These businesses, many of which are minority-owned, operate without official licenses and without paying taxes.
“It’s the undercover industries that really in this time of need that cannot ask for help,” West said, noting that these businesses will not be able to get federal, state and city assistance during this current crisis.
“This is the time as a chamber that we want to encourage businesses that are operating under the table to come from under the table,” he said. “We want to assist you with formalizing your business so that you can properly fortify your business for emergencies like this.”