By Chris B. Bennett
This week I have talked to many African American business owners about the effect that COVID-19 has had on their business, and there were mixed reviews. Some businesses were struggling and others were having record days. All of the businesses had lost revenue in one way or another. Hair salons saw many seniors cancel their appointments because they were in the high-risk category for COVID-19, and people who had big ticket hair appointments on the books (i.e. braids, weaves, etc..) were also cancelling with many local stylists because they didn’t want to be around that many people for an extended period of time. Many local restaurants saw lucrative catering jobs float out the window as companies allowed people to work from home and the state and county governments limited gatherings to less than 250 people. Times were getting tight for many, but they were still able to survive.
But this week, state and county officials put a dagger right in the heart of the African American business community. They not only closed restaurants, bars, and gyms. But they limited gatherings to less than 50 people, which definitely eliminated the thought of going to church, and they also shut down barber and beauty shops – which are disproportionately represented in the African American community, as a significant number of African American entrepreneurs fall under three categories – restaurant owners, hairstylists and barbers. Combine their closings with the loss of revenue to the African American church community, and the economic pillars of our community are potentially in dire straits. This is not to diminish the economic impact and hardships that the Greater Seattle business community is facing with regards to COVID-19, because we all are suffering. Many people are out of work and others are struggling to pay business and personal bills. But our political leaders must recognize the impact that their decisions have on people of color, and the Black people who advise them need to talk to them only in terms of Black folks when it comes to our issues.
Now in fairness to our political leadership, they have utilized all of the tools at their disposal to help slow the spread of COVID-19 to what they hope are manageable levels that won’t overrun our local health care systems, and I don’t think many of us want to be in their shoes right now. While I do agree that our political leaders (namely Mayor Jenny Durkan, King County Executive Dow Constantine and Gov. Jay Inslee) have done a great job in handling our current health crisis, I believe they could have given our business community a little more guidance in what they were expecting them to do, rather than believing that people would know what to do and act accordingly if they truly wanted a better outcome. For instance, I believe they failed to communicate with the barber/beauty industry that they should have voluntarily staggered their work times and significantly limited the number of clients inside their business at one time, if that was an option or optimistic outcome. I also believe that restaurants should have been advised to limit patrons to about 20-25 percent of their normal capacity. Again, a failure, in my opinion, to properly communicate the desired actions, outcomes and possible next steps, if any.
At this point, all of that is water under the bridge. We can point fingers and blame all over the place. We can blame the people who kept packing clubs, bars and restaurants. We can blame the owners who allowed people to come in and spend money without regard to maintaining proper social distancing measures to help limit personal contact with one another. Or we can blame the politicians that made the tough decisions that we elected them to do. But the truth of the matter is that we all must face the reality that more change is coming – either voluntarily or involuntarily. If people do not get the message and alter their social behavior, we may see a complete lockdown similar to what they’re doing in the San Francisco/Bay Area. As it stands right now, we have the ability to leave our homes whenever we want. But if we, as a community, continue to push the envelope we may see more of the freedoms go away.
Fortunately, our community has a long history of adapting, transforming and uplifting ourselves out of difficult situations and building monuments in new frontiers that await the masses. It’s up to us to right the ship and to help struggling entrepreneurs in our community. Many restaurants are offering delivery and take-out services – buy a meal or two from them or purchase a gift card for later use. Many barbers/hairstylists have no income for at least the next two weeks – send them a thank you card letting them know you appreciate and support them along with the tip that you would have given them for your next service. We need to create our own economic stimulus in our community. We cannot afford to wait on the government to bail us out, because they’ve already given us a bunch of promissory notes that amount to nothing more than a handful of gimme’s and a mouthful of much obliges. Let’s help stabilize our community by being proactive with your social distancing/behavior, infusing dollars into our local business community and helping to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our community by doing the things that the health officials suggest – washing hands for 20 seconds at a time throughout the day, covering your mouth when you cough and STAYING HOME IF YOU ARE SICK!
As we look at what is taking place around the world, we must recognize that things are much different than they were one month ago, two weeks ago, or even three days ago. But we must realize that being inconvenienced for a short period of time, far outweighs the alternative. It’s time to stop shucking, jiving and high-fiving and think about what we can do to start thriving today, tomorrow and in the very near future.
Through the eyes of an ink barrel may peace be unto you!