‘We have done as much as we can’: How the pandemic is affecting Black entrepreneurs in Nova Scotia

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WATCH: The pandemic has been difficult for small businesses, but Black-owned businesses are facing additional challenges. A new study commissioned by the Black Business Initiative is providing some insight. Amber Fryday reports. – May 10, 2021

Inspired to share his family’s love of cooking and food, Nevell Provo opened up R&B Kitchen in February 2020.

The small Halifax-based catering business features traditional Caribbean dishes and soul food, and their social media accounts are filled with drool-worthy photos of their latest creations.

But just one month after opening its doors, the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the globe.

Read more: ‘It’s not just a fad’: Black-owned businesses lack support months after George Floyd movement

And when business dried up, Provo discovered financial aid wasn’t easy to come by.

“Unfortunately because our business wasn’t in business a year before, or whatever the cut off date, we unfortunately were not able to take advantage of any of the support,” he said.

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A new study that looked at the impact of COVID-19 on African Nova Scotian businesses found significant impacts, ranging from closures and layoffs to supplier delays and possible permanent shrinkage in customer bases.

The study, which was released by the Black Business Initiative (BBI) and funded by the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), involved 59 African Nova Scotian entrepreneurs.

“We found that 63 to 66 per cent of participants actually experienced a significant reduction in terms of their revenue, in terms of their operations capacity,” said Harvi Millar, a Saint Mary’s University professor and research consultant on the survey.

“A number of them had to close. About 35 per cent of them had to permanently close or temporarily close.”

Read more: Nova Scotia offers extra $12 million to businesses hit by latest COVID-19 lockdown

Rustum Southwell, the CEO of the BBI, says the organization commissioned the survey because “of the dire circumstances brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and exacerbated by the brutal murder of George Floyd in the US.”

He says the findings show Black businesses need support, and is calling on people to help Black entrepreneurs.

“We ask that you look for our business directory, look for shops on Gottingen, Black Gottingen and other initiatives like that. We ask that you go out and find a Black community business to buy products and services from. I think that’s essential,” he told Global News.

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The report found gender and social attitudes towards Black entrepreneurs played a role in how people were affected by the pandemic.

For example, women were likely to be impacted because more women were operating in the service sector. And according to the authors, “there is a prevailing belief, even within the community, that Black entrepreneurs are not as capable as their white counterparts, and may not be reliable or knowledgeable, and may not deliver good customer service.”

The report identified other issues, including the inability to secure loans and market uncertainty.

“A number of banks tend to evaluate the credit worthiness differently because of the lack of collateral and the lack of intergenerational wealth,” Millar said.

“We have some work to do to educate the general public about the capabilities of African Nova Scotian businesses.”

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Smooth Meal Prep – Feb 18, 2021

It’s a sentiment Provo agrees with.

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“We don’t always have the credit history or whatever the systemic issues that already hinder Black businesses, so when you throw a pandemic on there, you’re kind of doubling those problems,” he said.

Despite the challenges, he says he will do whatever he can to keep his business running.

“We have done as much as we can as a family and as a business to really keep our business alive and keep pushing forward,” Provo said.

“Whether that’s doing take-out or whatever kind of different options we can provide just to keep people coming in the door.”

The Federation of African Canadian Economics will begin accepting loan applications at the end of the month to help African Nova Scotian businesses that have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

— With files from Amber Fryday 

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