That is what black-owned Cincinnati corporations are doing a yr after the COVID-19 financial disaster

This story was reported in association with The Cincinnati Herald.

CINCINNATI – Around this time last year, Donny Harper opened his new Go (o) d Company clothing store on Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine.

Before he could plan an official opening, COVID-19 hit.

“This is a place I’ve prayed for,” said Harper, who started his clothing brand in 2014 and had a store on Race Street before moving to his new location. “We opened the doors in early March and the pandemic has moved. And in mid-March they said, “Turn it off. We close everything. ‘And so it was super disappointing and disheartening. “

His business stayed closed until July 1, 2020, but that didn’t stop Harper.

He stepped up social media marketing, focused on building online sales, and designed face masks and other new products for sale, he said. He also used the help available to him. He has received a Paycheck Protection Program loan, a Facebook loan, and a PUSH grant specifically designed to help the area’s minority entrepreneurs hold out.

“These funds have really helped keep our business going and help us continue to thrive and get more goods,” he said. “And to keep promoting our brand to the public, to let people know that we were still – we were still breathing.”

Lucy May | WCPO

Donny Harper in his Go (o) d Company Apparel Co. shop on Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine.

It has been particularly difficult for African American entrepreneurs like Harper to weather the turmoil of the coronavirus pandemic. Almost a year after the COVID-19 economic crisis began, WCPO 9 and the Cincinnati Herald have jointly reported how black-owned companies are doing in the area.

According to a January 2021 study by the University of Cincinnati Business Center, black-owned companies in the greater Cincinnati area have an economic impact of $ 1.44 billion. The 800 companies included in the study support more than 8,600 jobs with incomes of more than 542 million US dollars and generate tax revenues in the millions, according to the analysis.

That makes the health of black-owned companies important to everyone, and the past year has threatened many of them, said Eric Kearney, president and CEO of the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky African American Chamber of Commerce. He and his wife, Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney, also own the Cincinnati Herald, but do not control the daily operations of the newspaper.

“The pandemic is having a really devastating impact on black-owned companies and our members,” said Kearney. “Some national polls say 40% of African American-owned companies went under during this pandemic. Our statistics say it’s about 30% in the Cincinnati market. “

RELATED: Black-Owned Firms Are Feeling Difficult During 2020, a difficult year

That’s up to 300 local businesses that have closed permanently, Kearney said.

“Usually they’re smaller companies, but they’re still just as important,” he said. “You still feed a family.”

“You have to overcome these moments”

In Bond Hill, the Davis Cookie Collection feeds more than the Davis family.

The cookie business opened its first stationary location on Reading Road last year after months of delays due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Lucy May | WCPO

The Davis Cookie Collection opened their Bond Hill dessert shop in October 2020.

Contractors working on the store front had delays getting the materials they needed, and the electrician working on the project also struggled to get the materials it needed, said Christina Davis, the company’s owner and general manager.

“What could have been a short turnaround time for us took a long time,” she said. “We looked at this place in November 2018. We signed our lease in August 2019 and were only able to open on October 10, 2020. “

These delays forced Davis to get more creative than ever.

She lost important personal marketing opportunities like the weekly popup location she worked at at Jungle Jim’s. But Davis developed new business strategies that helped her company grow.

“We really had to re-evaluate our business and move it in a different direction,” she said. “Now we’re really targeting companies where we can sell them custom bags of cookies that they have ordered for their employees. We have shipped nationwide. Many different companies – P&G to name just one – order lots of cookies for their employees. “

Davis also thought of new ways to make her store stand out from the crowd once it opened, and came up with her concept of creating a dozen. Customers choose from a variety of toppings mixed into cookie dough and baked while they wait. The store also sells ice cream and allows customers to customize ice cream sandwiches by choosing their own cookie and ice cream combination.

RELATED: Cookie Shop Opens With Sweet New Concept

“I do a lot of market research. Most of the time I’m up late at night doing research on how we can turn our business and what we can innovate, ”she said. “When the pandemic first happened and all companies and ourselves closed, this was my moment to get creative. I’ve spent a lot of downtime just thinking about what we’re going to do after opening it. “

Although Davis never feared that her business would be permanently closed, it is not always easy to keep going.

“I remember one day I collapsed. I said, “We’re not going to open up.” But then our faith set in and we knew that everything would work, ”she said. “You have to overcome these moments to see what’s on the other side.”

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Lucy May | WCPO

Christina and Miles Davis at their Davis Cookie Collection dessert shop in Bond Hill.

Ultimately, the challenges have strengthened the business, said Miles Davis, husband of Christina Davis and the company’s co-owner and chief operating officer.

“I think in the life stage, when you go through things and make it, you come out stronger and stronger,” he said. “We have learned, we have gained experience and we immediately try to pass it on to others so that they do not have to go through as much as we do.”

“Super excited” about the future

A survey by the African American Chamber found that members of the Chamber need help in four crucial areas:

  • Members needed a better relationship with their bankers without knowing the cashier. They needed a strong connection to get help with the government loans that were available during the pandemic.
  • They also needed a solid relationship with an accountant who could quickly produce the financial statements needed to apply for government loans.
  • Many members also lacked a close relationship with a lawyer who could stand up for them and ensure that their records were in order.
  • And members generally needed more capital to run their businesses.

“Typically, our companies are undercapitalized,” said Kearney. “That’s true for most small businesses, but especially for African-American owned companies. So we’ve taken steps to address each of these issues.”

The chamber’s staff are offering advice and technical assistance to help business owners navigate the various programs and loans available to them, he said. The chamber partnered with the Greater Cincinnati Microenterprise Initiative and MORTAR to offer PUSH grants last year to help businesses stay afloat.

In February, the Southwest Ohio Urban League and the city of Cincinnati announced a similar grant program called the Resiliency Fund to help black and brown owned small businesses devastated by the COVID-19 economic crisis.

Kearney said he hoped some of the stores that had closed can reopen.

Eric Kearney

WCPO

President and CEO of the African American Chamber, Eric Kearney

“I really think if people get vaccinated and the weather gets warmer, the economy will really recover,” he said.

Even so, technology remains a challenge for some chamber members who were not ready for online sales and services when most in-person businesses were shut down, he said.

Harper said the ability to sell its products online made all the difference for Go (o) d Company Apparel when its store closed in March last year.

“But our business is our core,” he added. “Here people can hear the story of Go (o) d Company, why we exist, why we started the brand.”

The Go (o) d Company name expresses the importance of being a good person – and the importance of surrounding yourself with good people, Harper said. The brackets around the second “o” in the name also have a special meaning.

“To me, I believe keeping good company is important, but keeping God company is even more important,” said Harper. “If you take the ‘o’ out, we’re saying you should keep God company too.”

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Lucy May | WCPO

Go (o) d Company Apparel Co. sells masks as part of its line of products.

Harper’s belief – in God and in the community that supports his business – helped him weather the worst economic crisis of COVID-19, he said.

Now he’s looking forward to a better 2021.

“I’m super excited for what’s ahead,” said Harper. “At the end of the day we have to wear clothes, right? We have to carry something. So that gives me hope. My brand’s message is my hope that people will continue to wear something that they can relate to, that represents who they are, and that creates a positive message. “

Donny Harper said he wanted to highlight companies that were his “good company”: BrownsKorner for health and fitness; MidWest Promo Source for Promotional Products; Pivot Commercial Services for commercial and home cleaning; Robert Smith for real estate needs; and Happy’s Pizza for late night snacks.

Information about the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky African American Chamber of Commerce and the services it offers is available online.

Further information on applying for grants through the new Resiliency Fund is also available online.

Nailah Edwards conducted an in-depth video interview with a dozen local business owners for the Cincinnati Herald. You can see the interview online.

Lucy May writes about the people, places, and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and to highlight issues that we need to address. She has been reporting on women and minority owned companies in the greater Cincinnati area for more than 20 years. To reach Lucy, send an email to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.

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