How a Black-owned barbershop and beauty business are surviving and thriving amid the pandemic

Small businesses nationwide are taking a significant hit during the COVID-19 outbreak, and Black-owned small businesses have been especially devastated by the novel coronavirus. Despite the mounting challenges, in Flint, some local Black-owned small businesses have found a way to survive and soar above the struggles.

Magnificlips, located in downtown Flint, opened its doors for the first time in early March with the goal to bring class, diversity, and service back to the barbershop experience, only to be shut down down a week later by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-home order.

“We were unable to generate income during the shutdown, making it difficult to pay expenses. We as owners had to pay business expenses out of pocket,” says Earl Jones, co-owner with Tim Tyler of Magnificlips.

With such a heavy burden, a number of businesses may have failed, but Jones and Tyler persevered. After receiving help from Genesee County Chamber of Commerce in procuring a grant and using the mandatory shutdown to spread the word via social media and on the street, Magnificlips was able to reopen on June 15, with COVID-19 adaptations of course.

A few of the precautions Magnificlips has taken to ensure the health and safety of their clients are mandatory masks in shop with masks on hand if needed, temperature checks for all who enter, social distancing in all areas from wait area to barber chair, hand sanitizer stations at the front and back of the shop as well as sanitizing work areas after each client and the entire shop at the end of each day.

Another business faced with tough decisions after the stay-home orders went into effect was Elle Jae Essentials, which operates both here in Flint and also out of Great Lakes Crossing.

Being immunocompromised herself, La’Asia Johnson, owner and creator of Elle Jae Essentials, was nervous at the beginning of the pandemic, but it was the loss of someone close to her that caused her to take it more seriously. La'Asia Johnson of Ella Jae Essentials.

“Losing someone was a wake-up call, you always live in the, ‘that’ll never happen to me’ mentality, but it can and sometimes it will,” Johnson says, “after that I was like, nobody is coming over, I’m not going out, I’ll be over here putting caution tape around my life,” she half jokes.

Of course as a business owner who produces, packages, and markets her own products, it meant going from the help of a nine-member team, to essentially becoming a one-person band.

“The office is so small, there’s no way to follow proper social distancing, there’s barely room for one, so along with in-person sales, office help, production, packaging, and everything in between fell to me. But my employees, I could not leave them high and dry, I had to come up with a way to ensure they make money safely and efficiently. They’re my team and they’re important to me,” Johnson says.

So she found an innovative way to reimagine her business, essentially, turning her employees into brand ambassadors where all work exclusively online. Each employee is given a personalized coupon code of their own choosing that entitles buyers to 10% while they receive 30% commission.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the protests against systemic racism that have swept the country, Black-owned businesses throughout Flint and Genesee County have persevered and remained a heavy presence throughout the community. However, those who survive and thrive still depend on the community showing up and showing out consistently, and not just on one-off days.

According to research from Stanford University’s Institute for Economic Policy Research, from February to April, African American businesses were hit especially hard, with the number of active business owners in the country dropping 41%. There are several factors at play when it comes to closures of Black-owned businesses, including lack of access to capital and funding; for example, according to an analysis by the Center of Responsible Lending, 95% of Black-owned businesses were shut out of the Paycheck Protection Program.

Ebonie Gipson, CEO of I'm Building Something Consulting, has been active in the community in uplifting Black-owned small businesses and recently launched entrepreBUILDER, a one-stop guide to supporting local Black-owned businesses in your community.

“I’m a firm believer, you know, if the black dollar is the most powerful dollar then it’s not a matter of if we’re spending, it’s how and where we’re spending. Looking at our community, if we change the way that we spend, where we spend, and how we spend and shift that back into our communities then our businesses will continue to flourish,” she told Flintside in June.

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Read more articles by Ashley Schafer.