By Ayana Jones
PHILADELPHIA — Visit Philadelphia has rolled out a new initiative designed to support the economic growth of Black and brown-owned businesses during the holiday season.
The tourism marketing agency organization is using advertising, web and social media and public relations bring awareness to these small Philadelphia businesses, which are disproportionately at risk for closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Black-owned businesses have been almost twice as likely to fail as businesses overall during the pandemic, according to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
“We know that small businesses are the lifeblood of Philadelphia,” said Rachel Ferguson, chief innovation and global diversity officer, Visit Philadelphia.
“Diversity is the future of our economic growth. We can all make an impact based on where we decide to spend our money. So we want to make sure that people are thinking about these businesses this season and beyond.”
The organization is promoting more than 130 Black and brown owned businesses featured in articles on visitphilly.com/buyblackandbrown.
The initiative was launched with the kick off of Love + Grit sweepstakes, a holiday contest inspired by Visit Philly’s podcast that runs through Dec. 30. The sweepstakes features a prize package of curated gifts from Black-owned businesses.
The Rev. Georgiette Morgan-Thomas, the co-owner of American Hats, LLC, welcomes being featured as part of the effort.
“It’s important to assist small businesses because I know that we are in such dire need,” she said.
Located in Philadelphia’s Frankford section, American Hats specializes in manufacturing women’s hats. Morgan-Thomas said the factory has lost 48% of its wholesale business and a significant amount of its retail sales.
The pandemic forced Morgan-Thomas to close her retail outlet in the Fashion District mall. Now she is striving to keep the hat factory afloat.
“We’re trying to survive,” Morgan-Thomas said. “We cut our hours back. We’re currently working three days a week, hoping that will help us in terms of expenses. We’re just doing everything we can to stay open and try to generate business during this difficult time.”
She is determined that her business will survive this challenging time.
“I have to win,” said Morgan-Thomas, who rescued the hat factory back when she purchased it in 2018. “I have to beat COVID. I can’t let COVID get the upper hand on me. I worked all my life, saved money and invested money that grew and put me in the position to be able to buy the factory without any financing.”
Ursula Augustine, who owns Ursula About Phace, appreciates Visit Philadelphia’s efforts to raise the visibility of local businesses.
“Right now any type of recognition or PR for small businesses is really appreciated,” says the professional makeup artist.
Augustine hopes the exposure will help expand her clientele. Due to the pandemic, about a third of her customers are working from home and have yet to return to the city to visit her makeup studio.
“My clients are loyal,” she said. “They’re supportive, they’re wonderful, but they’re not all back in the city. So this gives us an opportunity to reach out to some of Visit Philly’s base who has never heard of us.”
Augustine is still booking enough appointments to help sustain her business, however she has been impacted by the cancellation of parties, theater performances, weddings and other social events due to coronavirus restrictions.
“I’m akin to the restaurant industry, where we live on the social lives of people,” Augustine said. “We thrive on the nightlife of the city and with not so much nightlife, my hours are adjusted, I’m closing earlier because there is nothing happening after four o’ clock.”
Ayana Jones is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.