by Phil Manzano
It’s been a tough year — an unprecedented year of global danger from an uncontrollable virus, a reckoning of this country’s racial history, a deepening of political divides that burn to the roots of democracy, and a battered economy that is exacerbating the wealth gap.
But somehow, through it all, I have found an unexpected anchor, a foundation for these times — you. This community, South Seattle, with all its challenges and all its promise, has been a fount of strength.
For the last couple of years Southend Connect has supported small business owners and influencers in the Southend. The small businesses owners and influencers — who are weathering the pandemic economy and who add so much to the community’s economic diversity and health. We especially want to amplify Black-owned and Black-led, Indigenous, People of Color enterprises which make the Southend a diverse and thriving community where all can prosper.
The ZIP code 98118 “is among the most diverse zip codes in the country,” said B.J. Stewart, COO of Urban Impact Seattle, which has a number of economic development initiatives incubating and supporting Black-owned business and entrepreneurship.
“The importance of having those small businesses serving a community like the Rainier Valley … is that they know they know their customers,” Stewart told me in a recent phone call. “They know their customs, they know their cultures, and they are best able to meet the needs and solve the problems of their customers.”
“I think that is tremendously important, and guess what? All of us can enjoy the diversity of the food and the products and the services by their availability in our community.”
Across the country, 40% of Black-owned businesses have shuttered during the pandemic, Stewart said, according to a University of California Santa Cruz study. Of those 400,000 businesses, approximately 50% or 200,000 businesses are not likely to open again.
Stewart says Black-owned businesses face systemic financial headwinds that make it difficult to grow and thrive, such as lack of key business connections and relationships, technical business knowledge to navigate daily problems, and capital and/or access to capital.
It’s critical to support Black-owned and People of Color enterprises, especially as the community emerges from the COVID-19 shutdown, he said. As the country recovered from the Great Recession of 2008-2009, 70% of new job creation came from small business, according to Stewart.
“If we don’t properly support Black-owned businesses in our post-COVID economic recovery, they’re going to be left behind and they won’t be able to generate the new jobs that could be available,” Stewart said. “That’s our big opportunity, right now.”
In spring last year, we at Southend Connect wanted to find a way to support small and micro- business owners as shelter-in-place orders kept customers away. How could we provide a platform that turned lost foot traffic into web traffic?
Eventually, we developed as a simple way to market BIPOC businesses to the larger local community. Business owners talk directly to the customer in online places that their customers already inhabit, such as Facebook and YouTube. This is our business model in a nutshell, and now we are growing the concept and including other social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram.
No Limit Auto Salon is a good example of how our plan works. The Salon’s owner, Dave, made a simple 10-second video on his iPhone in less than 2 minutes which Southend Connect quickly uploaded to our Facebook page. “Hi, I’m Dave with Elite Auto Salon,” he said to the camera. “I want to take care of your car. I’m your guy.” And he included a big smile. Dave’s simple video performed well enough that he picked up three new clients that week.
Through Southend Connect, I’ve also met young businesswomen like Zue Sawtell, owner of Defined Salon in Rainier Beach. It’s easy to pass by the storefront, but walk in and you will find a relaxed vibe and friendly welcome.
“It wasn’t something that I was seeking, wasn’t something I even knew that would be received so well,” Sawtell said after being featured on the Southend Connect platform. “It was just a pleasant surprise and the support that it brought in was really valuable.”
Through Southend Connect, you can explore small businesses and influencers in the community by hearing directly from them. Speaking to these business owners gives you a strong sense of micro-business districts throughout the Southend.
“I love 57th Avenue,” Sawtell said. “I think that you can get a lot done on this street. You’ll see for instance, dance classes. You can grab a bite to eat. There’s a massage therapist … there’s a boutique up the street … It’s nice to take a stroll and investigate. It’s nice to have some awareness of what’s here. Sometimes It can be intimidating to walk into spaces that are unknown, but come on down.”
Scroll through the Southend Connect Facebook page and you’ll see some of Southend’s merchants speaking to you directly, often without any major production efforts or intense planning.
The videos are short, to the point, barely edited, one take and done. It’s a low-level of effort for the business owner who already has enough on their to-do list. And, like South Seattle, the videos are authentic, grassroots and transparent.
Some of the businesses featured on our platforms are well-established, like the Comfort Zone, others are emerging such as Vietnamese-style Coffeeholic House, which launched as the pandemic got underway.
“Urban Impact has been able to prove that by providing support to those small businesses, they can survive and even thrive during the pandemic and beyond,” Stewart said.
Of the approximately 25 small and micro-businesses (majority Black-owned) that Urban Impact has been supporting, nurturing and coaching during the pandemic, all are still in business.
“Maybe some are existing on duct tape and prayers, but they are still in business,” he says.
And as we emerge from the pandemic, Southend Connect will be doing some simple meetups to bring the community together with small business owners, with the first event today in Columbia City.
May 21, Columbia City: event is from 5-7 p.m. in the outdoor patio area, corner of Rainier Ave S. and South Ferdinand St.
Mid-June TBD, Othello
Mid-July TBD, Rainier Beach
Look for announcements and info on the Southend Connect Facebook page.
You can learn about BIPOC small businesses in the Southend and support them by liking the Southend Connect Facebook page and liking and following a business’ Facebook page.
If we don’t find you first, find us at:
Southend Connect Facebook: @southendgetconnected
Southend Connect Instagram: @southendconnectseattle
Southend Connect Tik Tok: @southendconnect
Southend Connect website: southendconnect.org
Phil Manzano is a South Seattle writer, editor with more than 30 years of experience in daily journalism in Portland, Ore. He is director of Southend Connect, a platform to support small business and build community in South Seattle, as well as the news editor for the Emerald.
📸 Featured Image: Theo Martin, owner of Island Soul. Photo: Southend Connect.
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