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What's Happened To Charlotte's Black-Owned Businesses In The Wake Of COVID-19 And BLM Movement?

Artists complete the base paint layers for the "Black Lives Matter" mural on Tryon Street in Uptown Charlotte.
Michael Falero

In the first half of 2020, COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement impacted Black-owned businesses across North Carolina. But months have passed and it's autumn, now. How are those same businesses faring after everything that's happened this year?

Shamika and Roberto Brooks own Hip Hop Smoothies  in Charlotte. The shop has a menu with hip-hop-inspired flavor names like "Turn Down for What" and "Fight the Power."

They operate both a store and a red food truck that goes to various places around the Queen City. 

“With the truck, we are set up in a different location [that] is never the same spot," Shamika Brooks said. "And with COVID, week-to-week, we could be at a different location.” 

COVID-19 has affected bars, restaurants and businesses like Hip Hop Smoothies. By working out of their food truck, Brooks was able to social distance and still serve smoothies to her customers. 

Then in June, protests over police brutality and systemic racism brought attention to Black-owned businesses like hers. 

“Once Black Lives Matter kicked into gear, people were really intentionally looking for places to spend their hard-earned money,” Brooks said. “And we've seen a great impact from our supporters ... because they have really come out and supported us.” 

To find Black-owned businesses, some turned to food blogs, like Cory Wilkins’ The Daily Special Charlotte.

His Instagram, which includes Black-owned Charlotte eateries, fills feeds with images of tasty food and information. Wilkins said that even before this year, his page served as a first stop for those wanting to support Black businesses in Charlotte. 

        View this post on Instagram                       A post shared by Cory | Charlotte Food | (@dailyspecialclt) on Jun 9, 2020 at 9:34am PDT

“That was one of the reasons that people kind of gravitated towards my Instagram page, I believe, even before all of this was because I was featuring a lot of these faces,” Wilkins said. 

The increased attention to Black-owned businesses wasn’t just directed at restaurants. Shelves Bookstoreowner Abbigail Glen was struggling during the shutdown. Her business is a mobile pop-up bookstore.

“I jumped into COVID. I was making sales by way of the order form, and then I had a slowdown, and I thought I was going to have to go back to work full time to fund my business,” Glen said.  

And then the protests started. 

“On June 1, it was the beginning of a wave of book orders," Glen said. "Everybody started buying books. It just has been non-stop ever since.” 

In addition to her online bookstore, Glen is active on social media, where she continues to host live discussions and events. 

        View this post on Instagram                       A post shared by Shelves Bookstore™️ (@shelvesbookstore) on Sep 4, 2020 at 11:32am PDT

James Mack, who owns Epic Times, a jewelry store uptown, saw his business affected in a different way by the protests: A group of people smashed into his store and stole a lot of his merchandise. 

“That was that was extremely unfortunate because I was looking forward to things picking up and getting back to normal,” Mack said. “And that particular incident led to another two months shut down. So we missed a lot of that economic boost from different sources of income that individuals had obtained.”

Mack said other businesses near him have shut down permanently due to the pandemic. But business has started to pick up, in person and online.

“It wasn't like the old days, but it definitely was much more pronounced foot traffic,” Mack said of Labor Day weekend. “I’m hopeful and if we can hold on I’m sure we’ll make it through.”

At the Charlotte Mecklenburg Black Chamber of Commerce, executive director Shanté Williams sees Charlotte’s Black-owned business community growing right along with its Black population.

“Hopefully we see flowing money in both directions, because if we're able to drive more revenue to Black businesses, you know, they will have more capital to reinvest in themselves," she said.

Williams said that by investing in Black-owned businesses, all of Charlotte benefits. 

Alexandra Watts joined WFAE as a Report for America Corps Member in 2020 in the unique partnership with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library using radio and Wikipedia to fill news deserts.

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Alexandra Watts is an interim assistant producer on Charlotte Talks. Previously, she worked with WFAE as a Report for America corps member, reporting on local government and community issues through a partnership between WFAE and the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.