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‘Black Owned Friday’ brings optimism for Tallahassee’s holiday shopping season

12/01/2020

TaMaryn Waters, Tallahassee Democrat

Twice as many Black-owned businesses were forced to close this year compared to white-owned businesses as a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic. 

However, some local economic experts say 2020 — the year of racial reckoning — may be ripe for “Black Owned Friday” to stop the decline.  

LaTanya White, an entrepreneurship instructor at Florida A&M’s School of Business and Industry, predicts Black-owned businesses will see more consumer support.

More and more, the private sector is folding Black businesses, entertainment and products into their economic orbit and showcasing them on their platforms. 

For example, the highly anticipated “Oprah’s Favorite Things 2020” is dominated by products from Black businesses and companies run by minorities. Etsy, an ecommerce website for creators of handmade and vintage items, curated a list of Black vendors on its homepage. 

White said this change could represent a monumental leap for overall Black wealth, adding it’s important to understand the difference between wealth and income.

“Entrepreneurial wealth is driven by the revenues that come into the business,” White said. “To that end, the more the business generates, the more likely that business’ family is going to be wealthy.”

A July article in the Washington Post reported 26% of Black business owners nationwide closed between February and May, compared with 11% for their white counterparts, a National Bureau of Economic Research paper shows. 

The challenge for many Black-owned businesses is affording the economy of scale that would match online giants, such as Amazon or Walmart.

“I literally pay $10 for deodorant so I can get it from a Black-owned business, because they need more revenue to reach the economies of scale to bring the prices down,” White said.

Yet, the “Buying Black” concept is not a new one.

The “Black Owned Friday” movement stems from the reborn Buy Black Movement and has adopted trendy slogans and hashtags in recent years all with the same goal: elevate Black wealth.

White said the spending power of Black consumers is worth $1 trillion but pointed to Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos, the richest person on the planet with a net worth of $182.4 billion, as an example of tilted economic wealth.

She hinted at changes, however, sparked by this unprecedented year.

“The summer of civil unrest has really pulled back the steel curtain on how those who have the power with their dollars can close the racial wealth gap,” White said.

There are examples of small Black businesses forging ahead in the face of an unforgiving pandemic. 

Tonia Newkirk, and her husband, Rory, own Sole Queen. In 2017, the boutique shoe shop opened in a modest 1,200 square-foot store-front space at Governor’s Square Mall and has since moved twice into largest spaces at the mall.

In October, the store relocated to a 5,000 square-foot store front that allowed Sole Queen to expand its inventory with plus-size clothes and a full accessory line.

To her delight, Newkirk said the pandemic didn’t hinder her store’s sales. She credits the Black Lives Matter movement and growing interest to support Black-owned businesses.

Sole Queen shut down for six week this spring as part of the statewide mandates at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Once opened, her customer base of mostly collegiate and young professionals still made deliberate efforts to patronize the business.

“It’s been steady,” Newkirk said. “We were surprised by the reception of coming back. Even when there were no parties going on, my customers said, ‘We’re still coming because we know we need to support Black businesses.’ ”

Newkirk, a 1993 Florida A&M University graduate, said she’s hoping the holiday season could encourage more diversity in their customer base to support their inventory expansion.

“My husband says, ‘We are party, picnic and brunch,’” she said, in jest. “But we don’t see the other side of the community support. We certainly get the students in, but we would certainly like to see someone my age … Our merchandise caters to a spectrum of women.”

Small businesses are principal employers in every local economy, said Darryl Jones, deputy director of Minority Women & Small Business Enterprise at the Tallahassee-Leon County Office of Economic Vitality. 

And in an economic recession, Jones said minority and women-owned businesses are often hit hardest. 

“Supporting women and minority-owned businesses, particularly during Black Friday, makes good sense,” Jones said. “It means we keep our neighbors employed. We keep our local businesses thriving, and this particular community really needs that support from their neighbors.”

The Black Owned Friday initiative, Jones said, has grown online and punctuates the idea of creating an economic ripple, including online shopping sparked by safety concerns brought on by the pandemic.

“Particularly, when we’re talking about making Christmas purchases for our children, it’s putting that highlight on minority-owned firms so that the presents that we’re buying for our children can be culturally appropriate and ethnically appropriate,” Jones said.

While White is optimistic about increased revenues likely to come this year for Black businesses, she said the challenge for them will be meeting the demand without compromise the integrity of the product or the customer experience.

“That’s the thing I’m a little bit nervous about,” White said. “When the demand comes, you have to have your systems in place, and you need to be ready. You can lose the customer as easily as you gain them.”

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