COVID-19 has hit small businesses like mom and pop bookstores very hard.
Marc Lamont Hill Seeks Help for his Bookstore Employees
“We’d be O.K. with closing and just opening [when this is over] but my employees won’t,” said Marc Lamont Hill, cultural commentator and television personality for Bet Plus and owner of Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee and Books in Philadelphia.
“The whole goal of the GoFundMe is to support the employees. I don’t want to function like a corporation. I want to function in a way that employees could count on me and their job.”
Like many businesses across the country, Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee and Books had to shut their doors as people shelter in place in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Hill has started a digital fundraising campaign using #WeStillHere to raise money to pay employees, vendors and business expenses.
Keeping the business financed during this COVID-19 hiatus will help ensure that Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee and Books returns to its full glory once the doors reopen in the future.
Hill opened Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee and Books to give those in his neighborhood a safe space to encourage creativity and community.
The name comes from Hill’s childhood when he would visit his Uncle Bobbie’s house and get lost in his uncle’s large book collection.
Hill’s love for reading came from those visits to Uncle Bobbie’s house and he used the bookstore to pass that love of reading to other members of his community.
“One of the first places that I found books and the world of Black authors and Black writers was my uncle’s house,” Hill said. “My father’s brother Bobbie. He fought in World War II. At Uncle Bobbie’s house, he had ‘Ebony’ and ‘Jet’ but also things like Black bourgeois (literature) and ‘The Autobiography of Malcolm X.’ He introduced me to a whole world of books and ideas different than I got in school and it created my whole love affair with books.”
The bookstore provided a way for Hill to recreate his childhood experience for other people in Philadelphia.
However, like many businesses, the decline in traffic was immediate after the coronavirus struck the United States.
Hill said, “We started to see fewer people come in. We had events where we expected 400 people and got 150. It spilled very quickly. It went from alternative plans to ‘closed closed.’ The city closed us. We didn’t have the opportunity to make a different choice although we would have closed on our own. Things escalated so quickly.”
The media personality is not the only businessperson struggling to keep their business afloat during this pandemic.
Many businesses are suffering across the board.
But Black business owners and Black organizations across the country have gotten hit especially hard during this pandemic from barbershops to beauty salons to churches.
“Oftentimes, Black businesses are operating with fewer resources, smaller margins and a much more niche customer base. When you own a business and suddenly half the people stop coming in, now you have a payroll question,” Hill added.
“Black folk are disproportionately vulnerable economically,” he said. “Our customers are vulnerable so they can’t support us the same way. When things like corona come unpredicted without proper resources, you can end up in a vicious cycle of debt.”
As a result of the current financial hardship, a member of the Uncle Bobbie’s team decided to launch the crowdsourcing campaign to provide revenue for employees during their furlough.
Hill said, “The support from the community and around the country has been overwhelming. I couldn’t be more humbled and grateful and overjoyed by the support from people who come to Uncle Bobbie’s everyday and from people who have never been to Philadelphia…For me that means everything.”
But as a cultural critic and political pundit, Hill has ideas for how the government and community can help small businesses and Black-owned businesses like his.
He said, “Obviously, we are going to need federal and state level support. This is a historically unprecedented event. The same commitment they have to big box retailers and banks needs to be made to small businesses. It’s so necessary.
“The other part is we have to make a concerted effort when we hit the streets again to spend Black. Whenever this s*** is over people gonna be out in the streets everywhere. We have to make sure we stop in the Black bookstore, the Black coffee shop, the Black restaurant, the Black lemonade stands.”
Hair care and beauty company SheaMoisture has stepped up to help minority-owned businesses, pledging $1 million to women entrepreneurs of color.
The fund is an extension of SheaMoisture’s long running Community Commerce initiative.
The current program for women business owners of color will include cash grants and an e-learning lab.
“During this unprecedented time of upheaval, small businesses are being disproportionately affected,” said Cara Sabin, CEO of Sundial Brands, in a statement. “For SheaMoisture, which was once a small business, the power of community and entrepreneurship is close to our hearts. Through this fund, we are committed to giving back to the communities that have helped us become who we are.”
Initially, 10 companies will be selected and awarded $10,000 each.
Funds will go out to companies dedicated to finding innovative ways to reach their community and customers.
SheaMoisture will then partner with We Buy Black to award grants throughout the month.
We Buy Black is the largest marketplace for Black-owned businesses.
SheaMoisture wants companies that are interested to reach out in order to be considered for the grants.
“All minority small business owners and entrepreneurs of color (including restaurants, hospitality, grooming, entertainers, wellness instructors, etc.) who have the ability to convene communities online for good, or distribute goods door-to-door (or via e-commerce) are encouraged to apply,” the brand said. “Business owners must demonstrate how the award will be used to cover their costs and assist others.”