South LA

‘Another stepping stone’: South L.A. community supports local businesses through pandemic hardship

While COVID-19 has brought great financial strain for Black and Latino-owned businesses, community members have done their best to rally behind local businesses.

Last March, Chrisciane and Stuart Eubanks eagerly finalized their busy catering schedule for their South Los Angeles eatery, Who’s Hungry. Little did they know, a pandemic would soon level their business, forcing them into a prolonged battle with the economic fallout from California’s stay-at-home order.

“At first, we thought we’d only have to close for three weeks,” Chrisciane said. “But after months and months, nothing returned to normal.”

Before the pandemic, the Eubanks were busy catering three to four events a week, cooking their popular Caribbean cuisine for nearly 200 people. They said that their catering service constituted 75% of their income.

As small businesses are the backbone of the South L.A. community, residents have not only been suffering from an explosive public health crisis but a particularly grueling economic one too.

A national study conducted by the Small Business Majority shows that 41% of Black and Latino-owned businesses will shut down in the next few months if additional aid is not provided. This is especially concerning for vulnerable neighborhoods like South L.A., where nearly 90% of the population is Black or Latino.

By June, the Eubanks had reached out to multiple third-party donors for additional aid. But it was not corporations like EATS Club or DoorDash who made a lasting difference. Rather, it was the tight-knit group of South L.A. residents who answered their call for help.

“We were really happy with all the donations made by our customers through our [online fundraiser],” Chrisciane said.

Who’s Hungry also gained traction through word of mouth, she says, as many customers began returning for takeout.

The Eubanks were not the only small business owners who benefitted from the community support. Customers of Fun Diggity, a local home-based funnel cake and dessert business, also donated and delivered personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies to owner Cheyenne Brown, after she posted about the business’s financial struggles on Instagram.

“It’s really been an eye-opening experience for both of us — the owner and the customer,” Brown said. “The pandemic has strengthened our customer-owner relationship.”

But South L.A. residents hadn’t always been this responsive to each other’s distress.

According to Malik Muhammad, owner of Malik Books, local Black-owned businesses did not see this influx in community support until the surge in Black Lives Matter protests surrounding the police murder of George Floyd last June in Minneapolis.

“It took the murder of George Floyd to unite the community at a time when things were dark and dim,” Muhammad said. “Floyd’s death brought a consciousness that created a unifying force of people within the community.”

Because of the pandemic, Muhammad had to close his brick and mortar store and move to a completely new location in Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza. He said the shift brought him severe financial, emotional and mental hardship, but his ardent faith in his community has upheld his mindset of hope and has kept him in high spirits.

“We have overcome oppression, racism, discrimination. The coronavirus pandemic is just another stepping stone,” he said. “We are resilient as a community and as a neighborhood, and we will continue making extraordinary contributions.”