NEW YORK — August is Black Business Month across the country. In Harlem, entrepreneurs are celebrating surviving a global pandemic, by working together.
For 33 years, Harlem’s Heaven Hats has crowned those with a flair for fashion. Owner Evetta Petty’s creations can be seen at derby parties and other upscale events around the neighborhood.
“It’s been a real sense of community among small business owners, especially here in Harlem,” Petty told CBS2’s Jessi Mitchell on Monday.
Petty finds resources through the Harlem Commonwealth Council, where Hamil Douglas serves as president and CEO.
“That’s a testament to the management skill of the owner of the business,” Douglas said of surviving, acknowledging the resilience of shop owners like Petty.
When COVID arrived, Petty shut down her store for five months, hoping for a reopening.
“I was home making masks, packing and shipping, putting them on my website,” Petty said, “So I did that, too, to have some income, but it was very, very difficult.”
Nikoa Evans of Sexy Taco in Harlem cranked out free meals to make up for the sit-down experience while her restaurant was closed.
“We are the community,” Evans said. “We are not business owners that drive into our community, open our stores, and then go home at the end of the day. We live here. These are our friends, our family, so for us it was very personal to see the struggle .”
The Harlem Commonwealth Council had a major impact in keeping these businesses afloat, distributing more than $15 million in financing in Fiscal Year 2021.
“Capital is the lifeblood of a business, but we just don’t put capital to work,” Douglas said. “We also give lessons in financial literacy.”
Petty was among the winners of the Council’s Harlem Entrepreneurial Fund grant, which gave her the technical assistance she needed to turn her business around.
“I was able to get my very old, very outdated website redesigned, and now it’s popping,” Petty said. “It’s very, very nice.”
The Harlem Commonwealth Council team just opened Petty’s store on Facebook and Instagram last month.
Evans now plans to expand, splitting her taco shop to double as a coffee shop.
This success could not happen without support. Harlem Commonwealth Council is currently sourcing funding for its next round of grants and loans — to help even more local businesses grow.
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