Black-Owned Businesses on Weather Economic Downturn

Shantella Y. Sherman | 12/29/2008, 11:34 a.m.

At Everlasting Life Grocer on Georgia Avenue in Northwest, it€s business as usual. A steady flow of regular customers, new homeowners and young girls seeking directions to braiding shops further up the block amble in and out €" even as the temperatures drop and winds pick up

Things on the Hilltop don€t exactly look the same: no more Pyramid Bookstore, the incense shop has gone up in smoke, and a dozen or so Mom and Pop shops that littered the corridor have closed or moved locations. Some have succumbed to economic declines, others to mismanagement. But for those remaining in predominantly Black neighborhoods, the news is not all bad.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, African Americans tend to experience economic uncertainty differently than their White counterparts. In addition to being laid off at higher rates, African Americans remain unemployed for longer periods of time and are less likely to regain the wealth loss during periods of instability.

This year€s recession saw a national unemployment rate for African Americans rise to 11.2 percent, compared to 5.8 percent for Whites and 8.5 percent for Hispanics. But for those businesses that provide staple resources to minority communities, even in harsh economic times, their clientele remains loyal. In fact, for African American-owned businesses, the economic downturn has fostered an increased level of awareness that has actually aided in their growth and stability, rather than their demise.

Yaa-ziel Ben-Israel, of Everlasting Life, said loyal customers rely on the store€s products and services as much as the store relies on them economically.

€We have not been touched by the effects of this recession because as long as we have what people want, then they will find a way of coming to us to get it. Some African Americans come as far away as Baltimore to get specific items that we carry,€ Ben-Israel said.

Even with the changing demographics of the Howard University corridor, which has grown increasingly Caucasian since 2007, Ben-Israel said Everlasting Life has met the challenges by continuing to do as they always have.

€People want to look good and feel good and so they are increasingly turning to traditional and alternative medicines. So long as those people are looking at labels and questioning what is being put into their foods, no matter their race, we will continue to prosper,€ Ben-Israel said.

€Good health does not have a color, and a lot of people realize that the business of healthcare is to give you medicines that cure you of one thing, while giving you something else, that is usually worse.€

The personal time taken with customers is also a staple of Everlasting Life, which offers health education and nutrition classes, along with fresh food.

€All businesses are affected to some extent by the downturn in the economy, but it has not been significant enough to make us have to close,€ said Tensae Berhanu, owner of Sankofa Video, Books & Caf. Sankofa Film, Books & Caf is also located on Georgia Avenue.