The community is uniting to offer support to black-owned businesses in the Tri-Counties as protests against police brutality and COVID-19 sweep the nation.
The protests, which erupted after video showed 46-year-old George Floyd being choked to death by a Minneapolis police officer, follow months of stagnant activity due the coronavirus that tanked the U.S. economy. While some black businesses report a strong show of support, others are facing a social media backlash over Black Lives Matter.
Raymond Smith, owner of Indigené Cellars in San Luis Obispo County, said business has been slow for the family winery since its wine tasting services shut down in March but it has recently received an influx of support due to protests.
“During COVID, I got support from people who were already wine club members for the sake of keeping small businesses open,” Smith said. “But as far as protests, the support has been astounding.”
Smith said Indigené Cellars has increased sales following the protests, with people ordering curbside delivery, booking wine tasting appointments and trying to help in any way they can.
“The amount of support I’m getting from the small San Luis Obispo County area is amazing,” Smith said.
Veronica Avery, owner of Avery Acupuncture in Paso Robles, said she is aware of the dangers of COVID-19 but that there is no better time than now to act.
“This movement is unstoppable right now and it pains me that we are in a global pandemic,” Avery said. “I wish I could say pause and wait until COVID is over, but we all saw that video, and it’s not just George Floyd.”
Avery, an herbalist and Chinese medicine specialist, said she received backlash on social media from voicing her opinions on the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“A lot of people are inconvenienced by the protests,” she said regarding Northern San Luis Obispo County. “But I’ve had a lot of people support me, following me and reaching out to me.”
Avery said the Tri-Counties should focus on legislative action.
“It’s great that black-owned businesses are getting this recognition, but we also need this action at the local and federal level in the government,” Avery said.
After the death of Floyd and the protests that followed, active social media users shared posts listing local black-owned businesses and encouraged consumers to economically support the tri-county black community.
Included on Downtown Organization of Santa Barbara’s Instagram post is Terrance Brown, personal trainer and owner of Brown’s Fitness, who said he feels uplifted by the community.
“Help is help,” Brown said. “It’s not going to bring George back, but it’s help.”
Since COVID-19, Brown has canceled in-person classes and has offered only online instruction. But offering remote services has helped Brown appeal to a wider audience.
“I actually see my business growing more because of the people I’m training out of state,” Brown said. “I’m feeling really good about it.”
Brittany Myles, a Santa Barbara-based photographer and marketing consultant, said she also experienced an increase in remote digital work because of COVID-19 and messages of support because of protests.
“I think it would be great to see people support black-owned businesses,” Myles said. “Not even just black-owned businesses, but minority businesses.”
In the Tri-Counties, there are far more Latinos than blacks.
The population in Ventura County is 2.4 percent black and 43 percent Latino, in Santa Barbara County it is 2.4 percent black and 45.8 percent Latino and in San Luis Obispo County it is 2.1 percent black and 22.8 percent Latino, according to the latest U.S. Census data.
Missy Drayton of Missy’s Cupcakes in Ventura said she appreciates the black-owned bakery’s newfound recognition, but is more focused on keeping her business open.
“I have seen new faces,” Drayton said. “I don’t ask why, but I’m just happy that they’re here.”
Despite offering curbside pickup, delivery, and a wide vegan selection, the bakery’s morning sales dropped due to the pandemic.
“We’re on a second wave of cancellations,” Drayton said of postponed events that ultimately remained delayed. “But I can’t feel sorry for myself because everyone is affected one way or the other.”
But not every black-owned business is lenient regarding who is welcomed inside the store.
In an open letter and video to the Santa Barbara community, Pura Luna Apothecary owner Ashe Brown addresses her role as a black queer business owner in a predominantly white space.
“We have also silenced our voices as black women in order to maintain a predominantly white customer base for fear of losing business,” Brown said.
Brown, who operates the wellness store with her wife, Cristin, said they will decline customers who do not accept their positions and ideologies.
“Your choice to remain aloof, neutral, indifferent or ignorant has no place in our establishment,” Brown said in the video.
But Brown said supporting black-owned small businesses is vital, as it assists with closing the racial wage gap, creating more opportunities and job creation for more people of color.
“Your dollar and the way you choose to spend it is powerful,” Brown said.
• Contact Vianna Mabanag at [email protected]