Long Beach, a city with an overwhelmingly white population, has only a few black businesses, although officials say they are trying to encourage more. But the ones that do business every day are strong and hoping to expand.
In its history, Long Beach had had few black individuals in power. Anissa Moore, a communications professor at Nassau County Community College, was the first black person to become president of the city council. She is no longer in office. In February, the city hired a black woman, Donna Gayden, a municipal finance expert, as its city manager.
But the few black-owned businesses are an important component of the black community.
One of them is Blacksmith’s Breads, a bakery and cafe serving freshly made bread using locally grown grain.
“We work with different farmers and millers in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maine, and Massachusetts,” Raymond Smith, the co-owner of Blacksmith’s Breads, said. “We try to just make wholesome bread, but we offset that with a coffee program and a humble, but creative, savory program and a bunch of pastries.”
Smith believes that supporting black-owned business entails more than just shopping at their locations, and involves making patrons feel at home in their community.
“I think it’s making sure that a black-owned business feels a part of the community, especially if it’s like a town like this where they really aren’t many,” Smith said. “To really reach out on a personal level, I think, means a lot more to anybody running a business, or anybody who might want to run a business at some point once they feel comfortable in the area that they’re at.”
Smith also believes that communities should be coming together and voicing their support for their Black community members.
“I think it’s very important in communities, with everything that’s going on right now, to voice and air out support for the Black community and to at least acknowledge the injustices that have faced the Black community,” he said.
This kind of support is one that Smith has not been seeing in the Long Beach business community.
“I’m kind of disappointed that I don’t see a lot of businesses vocalizing their support in what’s going on right now,” he said. “That kind of hurts.”
Peggy Butts is the owner of Body & Soul Massage Therapy. Butts offers different therapeutic massages customized to each individual’s needs.
Butts believes that the Long Beach community could benefit from having more diverse business options then what’s currently available.
“I don’t know any of the other businesses that have an African American owner,” she said. “We need to have more businesses that can cater to all the different ethnicities, that can bring those different things to the town.”
Butts remains hopeful that she will be able to help build more businesses within Long Beach in the near future, but understands that it will be a challenge to do so.
Butts thinks that one of the reasons why small businesses tend to not do well in Long Beach is because it has always been a community that largely patronizes restaurants and bars, tending to pay less attention to neighborhood shops.
Growing up, Butts used to enjoy bowling, playing in the arcade and going on rides, activities that no longer exist in Long Beach. “Now the boardwalk is just a boardwalk of nothing but being on the boardwalk,” she said.
Activities that can be enjoyed all year would be beneficial to the Long Beach community, according to Butts.
“When we have all the other months of the year it would be nice to have something that we can go to and enjoy, not just for people that are coming in giving money for beach passes, but just for a yearly basis, to enjoy living here in Long Beach without making everything about selling a beach pass,” Butts said.
Long Beach is attempting to help small business owners through its Economic Development and Planning office, according to John McNally, executive assistant to the Long Beach City manager.
“The city provides technical assistance through email blasts, individual consultations, and information on its website,” McNally said. “It helps to promote local businesses with business directories and showcasing business incentives to the public.
“The City of Long Beach works closely with the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce and has held many seminars with them in the past for the business community,” McNally said. “Several sessions have been targeted to new businesses and have had good attendance from minority entrepreneurs. The city looks forward to starting them again in the future.”
The city has also been attempting to help grow businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic by sending out “weekly email blasts to alert businesses to available financial resources from the federal, state and county government,” McNally said. “Some of these programs are directed toward minority and women-owned businesses. The state and city provide an incentive for minority and women owned businesses in their procurement: the city encourages these businesses to become state certified to take advantage of state contracting.”
Business owners can sign up for Minority/Women-owned Business Enterprises (MWBE) certification through Nassau County in order to be eligible for additional resources.
The Long Island African American Chamber of Commerce (LIAACC), which advocates on behalf of small businesses, offers its services across Long Island.
LIACC president Phil Andrews said small business owners don’t join the chamber, but that the chamber exists to help strengthen their business and send them resources that will help them grow.
“We want to provide a quality service that grows businesses,” Andrews said. “That’s the whole purpose of the chamber, that we create success in the area of business.”
“I think it’s important because America is all about bringing every community up,” he said “when we strengthen Black businesses, we strengthen America.”