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Tuesday, January 19, 2021

‘We’re trying to survive’: Local businesses prepare for second shutdown

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Businesses — especially Black-owned businesses — took a hit during the first COVID-19 shutdown. Now, with cases continuing to rise and rumors of a possible second shutdown spreading, business owners in Indianapolis are preparing for anything.

Starla Mathis, president of Perfect Apparel LLC, said the screen-printing company had to close for its two highest-grossing months of the year. While the shop reopened in late May, Mathis said they haven’t seen the regular traffic flow they’re used to. 

“The traffic coming in is a lot slower than it used to be, but we’re hanging in there,” Mathis said. “We don’t just do group apparel; we do work with schools and businesses and have been able to procure a lot of those orders. … It was tough missing out on our most high earning months, but for now, we’re able to keep our head above water.”

While Perfect Apparel had to furlough employees, Mathis said the company received a payroll protection loan (PPP) and got deferments on some monthly bills. In this regard, they fared better than many Black business owners across the country. 

According to a SCORE study from August 2020, Black-owned businesses were hit harder by pandemic closures than white-owned businesses and were less likely to receive assistance. Roughly 53.4% of Black-owned businesses applied for PPP and only 20% of those businesses received the full amount. Roughly 47.8% of white-owned businesses applied for PPP and 63.7% received the full amount. 

Seemingly, Black-owned businesses are not just less likely to receive adequate assistance, but also less likely to apply. 

In Indianapolis, the Indy Black Chamber of Commerce advocates for Black-owned businesses and helps business owners find avenues for relief during the pandemic. Multiple attempts to reach Larry Williams, president of Indy Black Chamber, have been unsuccessful. 

While many restaurants have taken innovative steps — such as curbside pickup — to stay in business, some downtown eateries don’t have the proper location to do so safely. 

Romeo Gerson, co-owner of Michael’s Soul Kitchen on Ohio Street, said the heavy vehicle traffic area would make it unsafe to have curbside pickup options. This — along with property damage caused by protests earlier this year — has caused the restaurant to close temporarily. While the restaurant serves parties that have called ahead, Gerson said the revenue the restaurant brings in is nowhere near what they were seeing before the shutdown. Gerson doesn’t believe the city is doing enough to help business owners make it through the pandemic.

“We would be losing profit if we opened back up and could only seat 50% capacity,” Gerson said. “As a business owner, if you can’t figure it out yourself, you might have to close down. We’re trying to survive and not get to that point, but we haven’t opened back up yet. We’re not even sure when we’ll be able to.”

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

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