H. Brandon Williams was supposed to spend this month celebrating the third anniversary of FishScale, his restaurant in Washington, D.C. Instead, he is trying to keep his business afloat.
The restaurant, which specializes in burgers made from sustainably caught wild fish, survived the initial blow dealt by the pandemic, which wiped out many other Black-owned small businesses. FishScale already relied heavily on takeout orders, which made the adjustment to pandemic-era restrictions comparatively easy, and Mr. Williams was able to obtain an emergency loan under the federal Paycheck Protection Program.
But the business isn’t out of the woods. Nearby Howard University recently announced that it would shift its undergraduate classes online for the fall semester and close its dormitories. A seasonal farmers’ market, which provides additional revenue most summers, didn’t open this year.
Now, with the federal unemployment supplement and other aid programs gone, Mr. Williams, 39, notices customers pinching their pennies — which is forcing him to do the same. He has cut back to three employees from six and has won rent concessions from his landlord, which he said should get him through the end of the year. He isn’t sure what will happen after that.
“We’re still at that area where we could go either way,” Mr. Williams said.
Julia Pollak, a labor economist for the employment site ZipRecruiter, said many businesses are facing similar decisions heading into a winter season that is a challenge for many small businesses in the best of times.
“There are many companies that after a summer of gathering way too few acorns are going into a hibernation that may not sustain them,” she said.
Widespread business failures, Ms. Pollak said, “could have a cascading effect on those local economies.” That is especially true of Black neighborhoods that often struggle to draw investment from large corporations.
Mr. Williams said he wanted to stay in business not only for himself but also for his community. “There are a lot of people who couldn’t get a job if it weren’t for Black-owned businesses,” he said. “I want young boys and girls to look and see somebody doing something that’s out of the box.”
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