KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a heavy toll on many small businesses in the Kansas City area.
Some have struggled to secure loans through the Paycheck Protection Program, while others have closed for good as the financial stresses of the pandemic proved too great to overcome.
To address some of these issues facing Black-owned small businesses, community leaders conducted a forum Thursday at the Bruce R. Watkins Community Center to talk about solutions.
La'Nesha Frazier helped create Bliss Books and Wine in 2019.
"I was just like, 'Where can I go that I can finish this book and have a glass of wine?" Frazier said of the concept that her business.
The plan was to create a bookstore with a wine lounge inside, but the pandemic altered those plans.
"We were just kind of like, 'What do we do now? how do we stay relevant?'" Frazier said.
Bliss Books and Wine pivoted, switching to Zoom get-togethers for reading groups while drinking wine.
Frazier is working on the business from home while also being a full-time physical therapist, so she knows the obstacles other Black-owned small business owners have faced during the pandemic especially when it comes to financing.
"It’s intimidating to be a Black female wanting support and loans and backing like that," Frazier said.
She was among those who attended "A Conscious Conversation" hosted by Entrepreneur Business Basics founder Kira Cheree.
"Unfortunately, we’re at the back of the line whether there’s a pandemic or not just to be honest," Cheree said. "African Americans are not as likely to be approved for a typical bank loan as our counterparts."
Cheree strives to help minority-owned businesses succeed, but she notes that inequalities, including accessing things like Paycheck Protection Program loans, can be problematic.
"I would love for us to be able to level the playing field when it comes to things like access to capital," she said.
KCMO Councilwoman Ryana Parks-Shaw sees this problem first hand.
"The pandemic I think opened our eyes to a lot of the inequities that we have in our city," she said.
It's why she started a small business tour to help highlight the Black-owned small businesses in the city.
"We are actually doing one-on-one interviews and displaying information on those businesses to try and help people understand, and we want them to be able to support their local business but understand that where they shop truly does matter," Parks-Shaw said.
For small business owners who are struggling, Cheree urges them to "remember your why — why did you get into business in the first place, because that’s the thing that can sustain you over times like this."
Additional resources for financial assistance are available on KCMO's website.
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