Activism | Development

Reinvesting In Our Own

Black-owned small businesses continue to face challenges on the South Side

Javier Suarez

Auburn Gresham is a neighborhood of single-family homes, apartment buildings, and myriad small business. The area boasts one of the busiest bus lines of the CTA, the 79th Street bus, and two major business thoroughfares: 79th Street and 87th Street. The neighborhood has survived several economic downturns, the loss of businesses and services due to white flight, and increased violence. Yet this Black neighborhood stands firm. The homeowners are Black. The renters in the apartment buildings are Black. The students at the schools are Black. The CTA drivers are Black. But other than several doctors’ offices, hair salons, barbershops, beauty supply stores, and Harold’s Chicken Shack, all the businesses are owned by other minority groups.

There are many establishments in Black neighborhoods on the South Side that are owned and operated by Arab, Chinese, Greek, and Korean people. Yet if you were to visit Chinatown, you would find that there are no Black-owned businesses there. I would imagine this to be the same in Albany Park on the northwest side of the city, parts of which are known as Little Arabia. Devon Avenue on the city’s North Side is known for large Indian and Pakistani populations. The inhabitants of Pilsen and Little Village are predominantly Mexican, although Pilsen is in the midst of gentrification. In each of these neighborhoods, though, the descendants of the business owners still reflect the makeup of that community. This is not the case in the South Side’s many Black communities.

In her recently released book, The South Side, author Natalie Y. Moore makes the case that segregating Chicago’s Black residents was and still is intentional. Communities were allowed to openly discriminate and the Supreme Court of Illinois even upheld the rights of neighborhood residents to discriminate against Blacks. This legal discrimination coupled with redlining by banks has worked to keep Blacks in economically depressed neighborhoods.

Redlining is the discriminatory practice of denying or limiting certain financial services, such as loans or mortgages, within specific geographic areas based on the race or ethnic makeup of those areas. Sponsored by the Home Owners Loan Corporation, redlining was common across the U.S. starting in the 1930s. Private banks soon adopted this practice during the substantial expansion of home ownership. The federal government eventually outlawed housing discrimination with the passage of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Yet the legacy of redlining and neighborhood discrimination laws lives on even today.

Today, no bank would openly admit to redlining or discriminating against Black business owners, yet there are very few Black-owned businesses in Black communities. Despite recent attempts by the Small Business Administration (SBA) to support more Black- and minority-owned businesses, the number of loans to Black-owned business has decreased. According to the Wall Street Journal, only 2.3 percent of the 54,000 small business loans from the SBA were given to Black-owned businesses in 2014, as compared to eleven percent in 2008. With so few Black businesses in the neighborhood, money is not reinvested because few of these other business owners live, shop, or bank in the neighborhoods where they make money.

In 2015, the SBA reported that its two major lending programs loaned Black business owners $119,850,900 or approximately 1.5 percent of its lending budget. Compare that to the nineteen precent loaned to Asian businesses and the six percent loaned to Hispanic businesses. White-owned businesses received the bulk of the loans—just a hair under two-thirds of the SBA’s budget.

Why do so many people from other minority groups open businesses in the Black community, communities in which they don’t reside, shop, or do their banking? It’s partially because Black business owners still face immense challenges to opening their own businesses.

I have heard that other minority groups work with family members to save money in order to secure loans from banks and the SBA. However, poor credit and restrictive eligibility standards make it virtually impossible for the average Black business to obtain a loan.

Many of these Black-owned businesses are necessary because they serve a purpose in their community. But we do have a choice. Utilize services provided by Black-owned businesses. Shop at Black-owned stores as much as possible. Eat in restaurants owned by Black folks. It is not necessary to stop frequenting businesses owned by other minorities, but require folks doing business in your community to treat you with respect and ask the owners if they would be willing to hire employees from the neighborhood. Finally, remember your neighborhood is only as good as the folks who live in it. We can make a change but we have to do it together.

Karen Ford is the author of Thoughts of a Fried Chicken Watermelon Woman and runs the blog caviar-grits.blogspot.com. She lives in Auburn Gresham.

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