South Bay’s Black-owned businesses turn to networking to survive pandemic
Black business owners find resources and help during the Bay Area Black Market Expo in this file photo. Photo courtesy of Carla Buggs.

Small businesses have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, but Black businesses have been hit even harder.

According to a report by the New York Fed in April, nearly half of all small Black-owned businesses had closed or were likely to close due to the pandemic.

Walter Wilson, co-founder and CEO of the Silicon Valley Minority Business Consortium, told San José Spotlight he estimates approximately 130 Black-owned businesses both locally and across California reached out, asking for assistance and seeking resources.

“What COVID did was magnify the great disparities … that Black businesses — the ones with the least credit, the least support from financial institutions, the ones that are systemically victims of racism — are the ones most negatively impacted and the ones going out of business first, the ones never to come back,” Wilson said.

While it’s hard to say how many Black-owned businesses exist in San Jose, they’ve traditionally faced challenges securing funding, networking, finding support and resources. As a result, Black leaders say those businesses are disappearing fast.

“We went ahead and identified over 200 Black-owned businesses, but that was (2013),” said Carl Davis Jr, president of the Black Chamber of Commerce for Santa Clara County. “Now, after COVID, I would think maybe 100, if that.”

Carla Buggs saw the decline firsthand when launching the Bay Area Black Market in 2015 in an effort to connect with more Black business owners. Buggs used her platform to give exposure to Black businesses across the Bay Area. She now features more than 35 on her website — many of which are in San Jose — and works to help business owners and employees through the pandemic.

The website offers services for building a brand, hiring employees and obtaining capital, in addition to digital courses by industry experts.

The pandemic has presented new challenges for Black business owners and community members, including limited online business prowess, limited community partnerships and difficulties in building and sustaining lines of business credit, experts say.

“There’s no one issue for Black businesses — it’s just a multitude of issues,” Buggs said. “Bay Area Black Market has positioned itself to help with those issues, the biggest being technology.”

Buggs helped Numbiya Aziz, owner of Gentlemen Health in San Jose, transition her in-person business to virtual when the pandemic first hit and most businesses were forced to close. Founded in 2015, Gentleman Health focuses on holistic disease prevention therapy for men over 50.

In collaborating with Buggs, Aziz connected with different markets to move her business outside of a physical space. Although her office has been closed since March, she’s joined the Bay Area Black Market directory, created an eBook and done virtual consulting.

“I have been able to expand outside the local area and to connect with more of my clients,” she said.

Vanda McCauley, owner of Vanda Salon, learned of Bay Area Black Market through Facebook, where she began to post her business website and updates.

“Others were informing me about what was happening and what the potential was in terms of shutdowns or what the CDC was saying (about) social distancing and cleaning,” she said. “But they weren’t telling you what you needed to do in order to survive and maintain your business.”

With Buggs’s help, McCauley transitioned her business toward retail, promoting her website and paying more attention to providing virtual services. She learned of grant and loan opportunities through the Bay Area Black Market, and attained a few loans to help stay afloat.

“It was just a lot of information that told me not just about the shutdown and the timeframe, but how to survive, how to maintain, how to sustain my business,” she said.

To promote minority businesses in Silicon Valley, Davis has worked with the Silicon Valley Coalition of Ethnic Chambers. The five partner groups — the Hispanic Chamber, Vietnamese Chamber, Filipino Chamber, Chinese Chamber and the Black Chamber — created the Silicon Valley Heritage Expo, an online event that runs through Dec. 31 to create commerce for small businesses while celebrating diversity.

“With this marketplace, people can come out and learn things and support the small businesses,” Davis said. “If we can get hundreds, if not thousands, of people to (attend this virtual event), they can see what our small businesses are doing, and we think we can generate some commerce.”

To better help businesses establish longevity, Buggs recommends consumers look to their local community.

“I’m not saying you have to change every product in your cabinet — but if you could just try other local products from Black businesses,” Buggs said, “that’s the start.”

Contact Grace Stetson at [email protected] and follow her @grace_m_stetson on Twitter.

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