Minority-owned businesses hit by the pandemic

Credit: (Courtesy of Jabari Mofford)
Jabari Mofford, owner of the Health Food and Herb Center in Newark

The Health Food and Herb Center on Broad Street in Newark has helped provide for generations of the Mofford family and has been a constant presence in the Central Ward for 47 years. The store, just before the onset of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, was a place where customers could get sandwiches, soups and a wheatgrass smoothie.

But these days the storefront is dark, with no power and almost empty of customers. Owner Jabari Mofford no longer serves lunches and instead makes a few home deliveries during the day, before shutting down the store to work nights at Amazon so he can pay his bills. He’s thousands of dollars behind on his electric bill and his rent.

“Every time I feel like I’m taking two steps forward, it feels like I’m taking five steps back because something else is going on,” said Mofford, a father of two young children whose own father opened the company in the early 1970s. “I always try to order small things and products when I can but it’s not enough. Since there are no lights people don’t want to come in and it looks like I’m closed all the time so it’s very hard for me to get back on my feet right now.

Minority-owned businesses in Newark and across the country continue to struggle during the pandemic, in part because of the inequalities that have exacerbated the economic crisis brought on by the pandemic. Several studies, including one published by the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice last week, show how the racial wealth gap has affected black and brown communities.

“Small business owners of color tend to be more economically vulnerable because they don’t have access to family capital or intergenerational wealth, so when the pandemic hit… communities of color in particular didn’t have the net. security, ”said Laura Sullivan, one of the study’s authors and director of the economic justice program at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice.

Repair the damage

The report, titled “Fixing the Cracks: How New Jersey Can Restore Black and Brown Communities Ravaged by COVID-19 and Systemic Racism, ”explores the impact of the pandemic on black and other minority communities in Garden State, and proposes policies designed to combat against the damage caused by the public health crisis.

“We want people to recognize that these disproportionate impacts are the result of policy, and to avoid those same disproportionate impacts in the next crisis, whether it’s a pandemic or some other type of crisis. , we must move forward with policies that intentionally promote fairness. Sullivan said. “We have a cracked foundation, and we need to rebuild that foundation intentionally with policies that promote inclusion and equity instead of reinforcing lasting disparities. “

The 24-page report addresses the immediate and short-term needs of vulnerable residents of the state, including prioritizing equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, protecting those facing evictions and foreclosures, supporting young people returning home from youth facilities due to the pandemic; and expanding access to wealth through home ownership. The report also calls on New Jersey to establish a guaranteed income program, a New Jersey reparations task force, and for the state to close juvenile prisons and fund community care systems for troubled youth.

In New Jersey, 24,656 people have died of complications from COVID-19, according to the latest state statistics, and 2,000 more have likely died from the disease. Of those who died, 18.7% were Hispanic and 16.4% were black.

Leading cause of death

The report states that COVID-19 was the leading cause of death for blacks in New Jersey in 2020. In Newark, where nearly half of the population is black, more than 850 people died from COVID-19 between March 2020 and March 2021.

Many blacks and Latinos who died or were infected worked as frontline workers in warehouses, as cleaners and bus drivers, and were seen as essential workers, preventing them from staying at home.

Mofford, who lives in Irvington, started working in Amazon’s security department after having to close his store in March 2020 due to statewide closures. He said he has been exposed to COVID-19 several times but has never been infected.

In the store on Friday, he said he still owed about $ 8,000 on his electric bill and was about five months behind on his rent of $ 6,500 for the storefront. He still owed some of his vendors money and was forced to fire his three employees, all from minority groups.

Mofford said he applied for grants and received about $ 10,000 in aid, but said it only helped pay about two months’ rent, and not much more.

Since then, he said he made home deliveries to earn income from the store.

A helpful owner

Across the street, Walm N’Dure, owner of Walm’s World of Fitness, said he lost a few of his clients to illness. N’Dure, a personal trainer, said he was forced to shut down his business at the start of the pandemic, and also fell behind on his rent and electric bill. He estimated he was $ 35,000 behind on the rent and $ 5,000 on his electric bill. He said his owner has been helpful and accepts payments whenever he can make one.

“This is the reason why we are here to survive,” he said. “Due to the shutdown and COVID-19, I would have to shut down completely if I was in another location. “

He said that although it has been open since last year, it has only recovered about 40% of its business and has not been able to recover its business accounts.

“I literally had to start from scratch, so when we reopened you had to offer discounts on top of not having any money,” he said.

N’Dure said he had very little savings and said he applied for grants for towns and small businesses and received one worth $ 10,000. He continues to apply for grants but has not obtained further approvals.

Its owners, Masani Barnwell-George, and her husband, Dexter George, say they too have struggled with their bookstore, “A Source of Knowledge,” which has been in Newark for over 30 years. The couple, along with their business partner, Patrice McKinney, were forced to shut down for weeks from March 2020 to June 2020 and received no money during that time. Weeks after they closed, they received a default notice from their bank for non-payment of their mortgage.

Business owners turned to a crowdfunding site for help and were able to raise around $ 60,000 to help pay their expenses.

“With the help of the community we started the page and it really helped us to be able to sustain ourselves and keep and some funding from the city organizations,” Barnwell-George recalls.

Bookstore owners also added online and phone sales to their business and instituted a drive-thru pickup service to maintain their connection to their community when they couldn’t allow customers to enter the store. Barnwell-George said the business has thrived with the changes, but business owners in the area are trying to survive.

“A lot of us depend on walk-in traffic, we’re in a metropolitan area, in a shopping area, and if people aren’t at work and don’t go out during lunch or on weekends, we don’t understand that. trafficking, “she said.” This pandemic life that we’re still living, and we’re still locked up and locked up. “

N’Dure, the owner of the gymnasium, said he wanted the government to give more grants to small business owners and publicize the programs available in minority communities.

“There weren’t enough contributions to make sure we all rise at the same time and bounce back from the pandemic as small businesses so we can help improve our community,” N said. Hard.

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