Black businesses working on solutions to stay open

BOSTON — Maurice Benson of Roxbury was a regular at Darryl’s Corner Bar and Kitchen in Boston’s South End, that was until March 15 when the dining room closed and it became a take-out only establishment.

Owner Nia Grace did not sit idly, she joined forces with a handful of other black-owned businesses in Boston to support each other and called it the Boston Black Hospitality Coalition.

Grace said they hoped to get the word out that their businesses were still operating, sought financial resources, and to connect with state and local lawmakers to find solutions so their businesses could survive until the phased re-opening included each of them.

Grace said they made strides but are still looking for help.

As Boston Mayor Marty Walsh canceled major public events, Grace said businesses like hers have sought opportunities to expand in public spaces.

“Could some of our businesses be vendors in an open space where we could have social businesses be prominent,” Grace asked.

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Creating patios along sidewalks or closing streets are concepts the city has been considering and could be beneficial said Grace, but more is needed she said.

The Massachusetts Department of Revenue tells Boston 25 News numerous measures have been enacted including the extension of income tax filing and payment, the extension of first and second estimated payment installments, and the extension of payment deadline for certain regular sales tax, meals tax to June 20.

Grace said she has reasons for hope, others in the coalition have fewer options and may not open until phase three, if at all.

“We're teetering it’s been extremely tough, we've lost three months of revenue,” said Frank Poindexter, one of the principal owners of Wally’s Café Jazz Club, a fixture in Boston since 1947.

Poindexter said owners are in negotiations with landlords and are determined to keep Wally’s around.

Businesses speaking with Boston 25 News are looking for relief with certain taxes and licensing fees, relaxed seating rules, and a clear path for how they can safely reopen before some close for good.

The city of Boston has been working on details for a plan allowing for additional outdoor seating at restaurants and has received over 270 applications, according to a spokesperson.

While restaurants wait for Phase 2 of the reopening to start, which could be June 8, Grace tells Boston 25 News it is imperative to keep the small number of black-owned businesses alive.

“If you start to see the black businesses die in the communities that they are based in, you are going to start to see the communities die as well,” said Grace.

The Black Economic Council of Massachusetts’s executive director said the state’s $10 million Small Business Recovery Loan Fund, which opened earlier in the pandemic fell far short of the needs of small businesses in the state, and in particular, minority-owned companies.

“If the state continues to do what it’s doing right now for small businesses, which is nothing, we could see close to half of our businesses fail or close their doors as a result,” said Segun Idowu, Executive Director of BECMA.

He said state government has mostly relied on the federal government which made available the Paycheck Protection Program small business loans, but the majority of minority firms do not have access to them.

During the pandemic, the city created a Small Business Relief Fund and Business Reopen Fund with a mix of public and private funds, according to a spokesperson. As of May 21st, $4 million had been distributed to over 1,100 small businesses citywide. The majority, 95% of the funds went to companies with 15 or fewer employees, 52% are owned by people of color, 49% are women-owned, and 46% are owned by immigrants, according to the city.

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