Juneteenth specials boost Black-owned businesses

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Semicolon Bookstore and Gallery may not have survived the pandemic, but the proprietress and staff went on social media just as book lovers around the world sought out Black-owned businesses.

"Most Black book sellers wouldn't put Black book seller in their window or in their profile - or anything because you just wanted people to not have a reason not to support you - so after everything happened, we proudly put Black-owned business there," owner Danni Mullen explained.

Now the River West bookstore is expanding and hosting a book fair for adults this Juneteenth, with half the profit going to My Block My Hood My City.

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"We have been emancipated as business owners to be able to exist in this space," Mullen said. "And it's important to celebrate it every chance we get, and get more people on board to feeling like it's the holiday it should be."

The National Bureau of Economic Research reported early in the pandemic, African Americans experienced the largest drop in active business owners than any other group, down 41%. And by summer, only half reopened with 19% still out of business.

Some local restaurants collaborated last year to bring customers back and get the attention of new customers with Juneteenth specials organized by Black People Eats. Majani is a vegan restaurant in South Shore serving plant-based Southern cuisine.

"We had lines down the street all day long," said Tsadakeeyah Emmanuel Majani, co-owner & lead chef. "This is a country that's thrived in diversity - a kind of a melting pot theory - but you need to know what's going on in that pot. You need to understand who's here and what they bring to the table."

Months before the pandemic, Andy Robinson took a leap of faith leaving her advertising job and opened AndySunflower Cafe in Beverly. She said there were days when no one came in last year. Then Robinson joined in offering specials with Black People Eats.

"It was amazing and it was the biggest selling day of 2020," Robinson said, adding that sales remained up 150%. "People would come in and specifically ask if it was a Black-owned business and they were here to be part of the movement, to be a part of change."

These business owners hope the new patrons motivated to spend with social conscience will continue to support Black-owned businesses.

"It's not only supporting a Black business, but its lessening space in the wealth gap in America," Mullen said.

"Any community that's not fully developed and reaching its full potential than it's not helping democracy as a whole," Emmanuel Majani said.

"Juneteenth gave me faith," Robinson said. "It restored me and my business, it really did. I'm still here and I'm ready for the next Juneteenth of 2021."
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