The pandemic dealt a second blow to the many African American owned businesses along Livernois Ave. in Detroit. A major city construction project had disrupted business for several months on the avenue of fashion. One Detroit associate producer Will Glover checked in with some of the Livernois business owners to see how they are managing during a very challenging time.
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Will Glover When the covid-19 pandemic hit, businesses along Livernois shifted into survival mode. Jo’s Gallery is a family-owned business that has been on Livernois for decades.
Garnette Archer, Owner, Jo’s Gallery We are a community of 237 small businesses that stretch from basically Six Mile to Eight Mile Road, and predominantly female owned. I think we’re almost 60 percent female owned here on the avenue of fashion female minority. So, when covid struck March 23rd, the majority of us went down for about 10 weeks. But being prepared for the unexpected is just a part of being a small business. And for a lot of us, you know, having that go live and being ready for the unexpected is real important, it’s really survival at this point.
Will Glover Across the street from Jo’s gallery is the Narrow Way Cafe co-owner Sabrina Swain has made changes to the way the coffee shop operates.
Sabrina Swain, Co-owner, Narrow Way Cafe & Shop Sometimes worry can creep in, but I believe for us it was more of a survival mode. It was okay, how can we adapt, how can we make this work? And at the same time, how can we continue to make sure that we’re taking care of our employees as well as our customers? What is going to be the best form of action? And I believe that we have made those tough decisions.
Bike rider, Patron We’ve been trying really hard to find places like Narrow Way where you can walk up to the window and get coffee. And we just got back from having lunch in Corktown at Mudgie’s down in Corktown, because they have an outside patio. So, we want to support whatever businesses we can that are trying to keep things outside and spaced out during pandemic, keep it safe and keep our businesses going.
Will Glover Next door to the Narrow Way Cafe is Kuzzo’s Chicken and Waffles restaurant that opened in January of 2015. Prior to the new 3 week pause on indoor dining, cousins was operating at 50 percent capacity.
Patron, Kuzzo’s Chicken and Waffles It’s important, you know to support our people, so we can go ahead and make it through this.
Dolphin Michael, President Avenue of Fashion Business Association The restaurants, they actually are doing okay. They ramped up their carry out business and that helped out a lot, that kept them afloat.
Will Glover This is the second time businesses on the avenue of fashion have been forced to shift into survival mode. In April of last year, the city of Detroit began a redevelopment project along this section of Livernois. We went there last summer to see how business was going during the construction of wider sidewalks, new lighting, a protected bike lane and dedicated turning lane.
Andrea Hetheru, Owner, Greenbliss Life Luxe ECO Essentials I appreciate, you know, having change, but it’s just really hurting business.
Will Glover The project took much longer than expected.
Sabrina Swain, Co-owner, Narrow Way Cafe & Shop So the streetscape, which was only supposed to last a couple of months, ended up lasting around eight months.
Garnette Archer, Owner, Jo’s Gallery The process was brutal; it was very difficult. We lost a significant number of businesses; I can’t undermine that. September 30th, 2019, so I remember that day specifically because they had just poured the concrete literally up to my door. We had knocked out all of the street and the concrete was gone now, and they just poured it, It was fresh and we could actually open the doors and have a normal day of business. It was a huge sigh of relief.
Sabrina Swain, Co-owner, Narrow Way Cafe & Shop We thought that as November of 2019 approached and that was kind of the end of the streetscape that, you know, although we’re going into our slow season of winter, that the spring of 2020 was going to be our time. With this new beautiful and large sidewalk in the streets, that it was just going to go smoothly. But lo and behold, 2020 hit and it has been a whirlwind.
Will Glover Just as businesses along Livernois were approaching the light at the end of the construction tunnel, covid-19 brought the world to a standstill.
Garnette Archer, Owner, Jo’s Gallery If we had to close because a covid and construction, it meant losing a 20-year legacy business. There’s only a handful of legacy businesses here on the avenue of fashion.
Dolphin Michael, President Avenue of Fashion Business Association We got a lot of help from the city this time around, so that’s the reason a lot of the business didn’t go out of business.
Patron, Kuzzo’s Chicken and Waffles I think that it is most important that we spend our money and spend our dollars in our own community where you live at and let us grow. We been feeding other communities for a long time, and it’s a shame it took this type of environment to get us into this mental space, but I think it’s a good thing.
Garnette Archer, Owner, Jo’s Gallery I think that Black Lives Matter has drawn more emphasis, you definitely see a greater grant opportunities out there for minorities, which was desperately need it. You can’t take a loan out as a business owner for everything that you need to do, so having reserve resources and those grant opportunities available are vital. Particularly when you think about the national averages, 50 percent of black businesses have failed as a part of this pandemic is a very serious issue.
Bike rider, Patron Let me just say that, I think that because of all the social unrest a lot of people were made aware of black businesses. But black businesses in order to survive they can’t have a year; they need to have sustained support.
Will Glover The avenue of fashion has had its fair share of ups and downs over the past few years, but this stretch of businesses has held strong and shows few signs of giving up.
Sabrina Swain, Co-owner, Narrow Way Cafe & Shop Like I said, I think that this is just one of many situations that us as Detroiters and black business owners are just going to come through and win.