Friday, August 31, 2007

Black businesses in Detroit - why are they so hard to find?

One of the strangest ironies of being in the Detroit area, particularly in the city, is that can be difficult to find a black-owned business. In a city with an population that is at least 80% African-American, one would think that locating a black-owned business would be a breeze.

Yet, with the exception of barbershops and beauty salons, there are very few types of business establishments that blacks control in any significant measure. It's even difficult for us to find black hair care products from a black-owned business; more often than not, such products are now sold by Korean merchants.

This is not to say that black businesses don't exist in Detroit. According to federal government statistics, there are an estimated 25,000 black-owned businesses in the Detroit area. So, where in the world are they, you may wonder?

Many of these businesses are not the traditional retail businesses that consumers are used to shopping at, like hardware stores, gas stations, and grocery stores. Some of our businesses tend to be those that are geared towards supplying products and services to corporations and government institutions; there are numerous examples of successful black-owned businesses in the Detroit area that fit this profile, including many of the Black Enterprise 100 businesses.

And then there are many smaller, home-based businesses that provide everything from gift baskets and catering services to cosmetics, Tahitian Noni juice, and Melaleuca. These businesses are obviously less visible because of their lack of retail presence.

It's not as if black Detroiters have never known the retail market. Up until the 1950s, black businesses were quite visible, particularly in what were known as the Paradise Valley and Black Bottom districts. However, these areas were demolished as new federally-funded highways were constructed directly through these neighborhoods in the name of "urban renewal". Detroit hasn't had a significant black retail business presence since.

Slowly, though, things are changing. Just a few days ago, Detroit-based black real estate developer Herb Strather announced the re-opening of the Hotel St. Regis, after purchasing the hotel with a group of black investors and spending several millions of dollars in renovations. And black restauranteur Frank Taylor has been leading the way with his acclaimed dining establishments Seldom Blues and the Detroit Breakfast House and Grill. However, in a city like Detroit, there should be many, many more examples of these types of businesses.

I would love to spend more of my hard-earned money with people from my own community for a change. It just shouldn't be so hard for me to do so.

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