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Cedar Rapids non-profit highlights Black-owned businesses

Published: Dec. 11, 2020 at 10:41 PM CST
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) -LeShawn Smith is the owner and baker at Shawnniecakes in NewBo City Market. She says the pandemic has pushed her to work harder than ever in order to stay open. She’s been serving up her usual cookies, cakes, and other treats, but now, her menu has some surprising additions. “We’ve added food, and we had to do that after the pandemic, because we can’t survive just being a bakery,” says Smith. She says she’s had to adapt to offer delivery, online ordering, and increase her presence on social media.

She’s also getting support from the My Business Matters Campaign. Launched by Empower, a Cedar Rapids non-profit that’s part of Jane Boyd, it’s hoping to give Black-owned businesses a boost during the pandemic.

Empower is a program that aims to support small businesses by giving them resources, mentorship and education to help them grow. It’s helped more than 100 businesses so far this year, and it’s hoping it’s new campaign will continue that work.

Program Manager Maurice Davis says because of COVID-19, customers are changing their behavior, forcing businesses to accommodate the new patterns to keep from closing down. “It’s a compound effect. If I don’t shop in store and start shopping online, a small business that employs four people and that business owner no longer has a job, so they can’t shop locally either. And so it just creates this negative loop,” says Davis.

Davis says the campaign will highlight Black-owned businesses in an effort to help them reach new customers during the pandemic, and vice versa. A study from the National Bureau of Economic Research shows Black-owned businesses have closed due to the pandemic at twice the rate of white-owned businesses. The study says Black-owned businesses have been closing at a rate of 41%, Latinx business owners fell by 32%, Asian business owners dropped by 26%, and White-owned businesses were down by 17%.

The My Business Matters campaign will create videos promoting more than a dozen black-owned businesses and offer them guidance to succeed. The videos can be found on Empower’s social media pages.

Smith says she’s grateful for the support she’s seen from the community, NewBo City Market, and Empower, and that she’s excited to be part of this opportunity. “We want everyone to get through this, we want everyone to be okay. So we have to be open to getting the support, getting the resources, and also giving those things. That’s part of being a community,” says Smith.

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