Ypsilanti resident Bryan Foley recently launched an initiative called Buy Black Friday to help Black-owned businesses survive during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Foley says many of his friends own restaurants, hair salons, and other small businesses as their sole source of income, and those owners have been suffering from a downturn or even a complete absence of business. Some have faced eviction or been unable to pay rent.
"When President Trump started talking about the stimulus check, the first thing I said was that we need to stimulate the Black economy," Foley says. He hopes to especially boost Black-owned businesses in Ypsi.
Foley notes that Ypsi's South Side once had a thriving black business district on Harriet Street that included restaurants, a pool hall, barber shops, and a grocery store. But Foley says gentrification, the closing of local automotive plants that employed many residents, and the crack cocaine epidemic contributed to a severe decline in that business district. Today, many of the businesses located in Ypsi aren't owned by people who actually live in the community, he says.
"Many people take dollars out of our community to better theirs," he says. "We need to uplift our city and support and take care of ourselves first."
Each week, Foley posts on Facebook the list of local Black-owned businesses he's urging residents to support. Early campaigns highlighted Avenue Professional Detailing and Car Wash, and two local soul food restaurants: Cuppy's Best and A Taste of Soul by Biggie's.
Victor Swanson, owner of A Taste of Soul, has been running his soul food cafe on the South Side since 2002. He added plexiglas to the front counter and shifted to carryout business only during the COVID-19 pandemic, and says he's grateful for efforts to boost the local Black economy.
"I could kind of tell we were getting a few extra different people coming in on Friday," Swanson says.
Swanson says Black business owners give back to the communities they operate in, and not just in dollars.
"When you buy Black, that means we can hire and pay a kid from the neighborhood, so we can have jobs and opportunities for young people in the community," he says.
A more recent Buy Black Friday highlighted the Good Eats food truck run by Frank James of Romulus, who often sets up his food truck in Ypsilanti's Depot Town. Foley says he hopes to support Black Stone Bookstore and Cultural Center in future campaigns, and wants to promote Black-owned barbershops and beauty salons once they are back in operation.
"If you want to see America at its best, you have to better the least among us. Those who need the help the most should get the most help," Foley says. "And that, right now, is our Black businesses that have been affected by the pandemic."
Those who want to follow the Buy Black Friday campaign are invited to watch Foley's Facebook page for upcoming announcements. Those who want to support other Black-owned businesses throughout Washtenaw County can find a list of those businesses on the Destination Ann Arbor Facebook page.
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo by Sarah Rigg.