In a space they said was built to make a “positive impact,” the three young founders of Washington, D.C.’s Village Cafe celebrated the coffee shop’s second birthday.
Founders Kevon King, Mahammad Mangum and Ryan Williams said the goal when they opened the cafe in the city’s Union Market was to create a communal place that provided opportunity for themselves and others. The cafe’s three “village pillars” are people, impact and space.
“We all had our own different passions, but we decided to come together to kind of not only start a business together but create spaces for us and for others,” said Mangum.
The cafe was forced to close down earlier this year due to COVID-19. When the cafe reopened in August, the trio noticed their community had become keenly aware of Black-owned businesses like theirs.
“It’s a really amazing thing actually to be able to see that you know people are taking initiatives to want to support businesses,” said Mangum. “And a lot of times, these are like brand new people who have never, have been.. especially with us … or have heard of us.”
The “Buy Black” movement has been around, but it gained a larger focus this summer amid national headlines surrounding the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the Black Lives Matter protests. The movement highlights Black-owned businesses and gives them much-needed support during the pandemic.
Minorities own an estimated 1 million businesses in the U.S., according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 Annual Business Survey. Of those, just 12% had Black owners.
The movement has gained traction. This summer, mentions of “Black-owned” in Yelp reviews were up 617% compared to the same time last year, according to the company.
“It tells you that people are really interested in putting their dollars where their values are and what they care about the most,” said Tara Lewis, a Yelp trends expert. “Supporting Black-owned businesses with your dollars is a great way to do that.”
Yelp was just one of many websites to highlight “Black-owned” shops this year. Tracey and Ernisha Hall, co-owners of branding and design company Niray, say they’ve noticed the impact of that recognition.
“It’s been an amazing wave, and I will say that some of these business owners, they were on the brink of closure,” said Ernisha Hall.
The two women also run the Virginia Black Business Directory, which connects consumers to Black-owned businesses throughout the state. Earlier this month, they hosted a Black Business Expo for more than 100 participants, each of whom remained socially-distant and wore masks.
The movement is all the more crucial at a time like now. Federal funding through the Paycheck Protection Program has dried up for many business owners, and as Congress remains stalled on additional relief, the pandemic is already dealing damage. The number of Black business owners between February and April dropped 41%, according to a report published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Hall said the expo and the Buy Black movement are helping businesses in lieu of dried up federal relief.
“We lost 90% of our revenue during COVID,” said Tracey Hall.
“So Buy Black was a way to ensure that Black-owned businesses and Black communities and Black families still received the same amount of revenue treatment and be able to have the same level of success,” said Ernisha Hall.
While the Buy Black movement has provided much needed exposure to struggling businesses, it’s also spurred the creation of new businesses.
Kiara Bent, owner of Willie Ruth’s Cookies, turned a passion project inspired by her grandmother’s recipes into a full-blown business in July.
Bent started her business in the middle of the pandemic and said many wondered why she was willing to take the risk now amid an economic crisis.
“But again, I say, ‘Why not now?’” said Bent.
Bent, who recently attended her first Black Business Expo, said she’s seen a sizable bump in orders because of the Buy Black movement. Right now, she’s baking out of her own kitchen, but she said this kind of growth will allow her business to expand: “I’m excited,” she said.
Even though the Buy Black movement started this year, there is a general sense that the momentum will continue, according to Yelp’s Lewis.
“We believe that this interest in supporting Black-owned businesses is much more than a trend,” she said. “It’s a movement and it’s one that’s going to continue for a long time.”