George Floyd protests

‘It’s unbelievable’: Philly’s Black-owned businesses see boost thanks to worldwide social justice protests

Three woman entrepreneurs say they’re thrilled with the trend — and hope it lasts.

Shanti Mayers of The Sable Collective, Jenea Robinson of Marsh + Mane, Saba Tedla of Booker's Restaurant

Shanti Mayers of The Sable Collective, Jenea Robinson of Marsh + Mane, Saba Tedla of Booker's Restaurant

Philadelphia Tribune; Instagram
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There’s good news for all the folks who’ve been intentionally patronizing Black brands during this nascent movement toward race equity. Your support is working.

Multiple business owners in Philadelphia told Billy Penn they’re seeing a notable spike in sales, revenue and name recognition, saying they could directly tie it to worldwide Black Lives Matter protests and organizing.

Google Trends data shows searches for “Black-owned business near me” spiked 300% on June 2, according to CNN, and queries for “Black-owned restaurant” tripled nationwide. Black business directory apps also saw a sharp uptick in use. The surge in Google searches is also apparent in Philadelphia.

“It’s unbelievable,” said West Philly restaurant owner Saba Tedla. “I’m doing close to the number that I was doing with my entire restaurant open, [with] just outside dining.”

Tedla runs Booker’s Restaurant on 51st and Baltimore, and employs about a dozen staffers.

“Once the protests started, I feel like there was a surge,” Tedla said of support for her restaurant. “[T]here is a movement that says… ‘Hey, we need to have better economic empowerment and better leverage in our society. And to do that, we need to patron ourselves, we need to keep our money within our community.”

That’s especially important in Philly, where Black-owned businesses with paid employees make up just 2.5% of all local enterprises. The picture’s a bit less bleak when you factor in single proprietor Black biz, which experts say makes up about 25% of the local entrepreneurship landscape.

Before the pandemic, Shanti Mayers of The Sable Collective employed five other people at her Fashion District boutique that caters specifically to Black women and women of color.

“Because of social media there are a lot of shares about the business. And so there are a lot of new sales,” Mayers said. “New followers, actually, more than sales.”

She now only has one additional employee.

Pandemic pressures have been unequal

The pandemic has turned out to be America’s great unequalizer.

Coronavirus statistics have highlighted deep-rooted inequities between Black Americans and other racial groups in employment and health outcomes. Black Americans are overrepresented among essential workers, risking their health to staff grocery stores, pharmacies, fast food restaurants and health systems. In tandem, they’re overrepresented among those devastated by unemployment caused by the pandemic’s economic effects.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 has killed Black Americans at a rate of nearly four times that of white Americans. That startling statistic unearthed for many the long-standing legacy of disparate healthcare treatment Black people receive.

And an academic analysis found that from February to April the number of active Black business owners dropped by 40%, compared to a 22% average decrease of all active entrepreneurs.

Even in a good economic climate, Black business owners face trouble accessing capital. During COVID-19, the federal government rolled out a grossly inequitable business resource program that left Black business owners in the dust.

Marsh + Mane owner Jenea Robinson was one of the Black Philly business owners iced out of the federal funding shuffle.

“I applied for everything and did not receive anything,” Robinson said. She got a little money from the city, but her most substantial surge came during the George Floyd demonstrations.

“June was probably the first almost normal — and I’m using air quotes — month that I had, where sales resembled pre COVID sales,” Robinson said. “The first two weeks or so right after the protests, I did see an increase in online sales.”

Marsh + Mane is a beauty supply and lifestyle store in Headhouse Square that primarily sells products made by and for Black people. When Robinson was forced to close her brick and mortar, she transitioned to the internet.

“Now the amount of sales that I’m doing online is almost equal to what I was doing in the store,” she said.

Hoping the surge becomes lasting support

In one way, the pandemic forcing Mayers to revive the online portion of Sable Collective was a positive. Instead of scrambling to ride the international wave of Black economic empowerment this summer, her specially curated wellness boutique already had worldwide reach.

“I have people in France that want to buy things,” she said. “More and more, I’m seeing New York and D.C. and the West Coast showing a lot of love. So it’s been quite the expansion in that way.”

Beyonce’s Black Parade Route is a business database that spotlights Black-owned companies,including Philly’s Base Butter and Philadanco. There’s been a spike in efforts like this, with well-known individuals and organizations promoting businesses owned by African Americans.

My Black Receipt is a national initiative that calls on shoppers to buy Black and then upload proof of purchase into a database. Launched on Juneteenth, the project has a goal of $5 million in Black biz sales by July 6. As of Friday, contributors had spent just under $1 million.

Entrepreneurial pillars in Philadelphia like music icon Kenny Gamble and Beech Companies CEO Kenneth Scott have long championed buying Black locally. Gamble launched an online business directory and discount card initiative called iBuyBlack in 2017. Scott’s development enterprise publishes a physical and online directory of Black businesses annually.

There’s also Philly Black and AfroPhilly, two other established online directories

In this new wave of buying Black, Robinson, Tedla and Mayers all say many of their new customers are white, likely discovering the brands thanks to socially aware social media postings.

An older white man who said he wanted to support social justice but couldn’t protest came to Booker’s almost every day for one week, Tedla said.

Mayers said Sable Collective got nearly 300 new followers after a white person tagged her business on Instagram.

“It was a boost,” Robinson said of Mane + Marsh’s newfound customers. “People wanted to support people and that’s where those temporary sales came from during that time.”

She and others hope their new bump in popularity is more than just a fad.

Said Robinson: “My message and my platform has always been about ‘Shop Black, support Black.'”