City of Burlington grants BIPOC-owned businesses COVID relief

Published: Jan. 11, 2021 at 12:22 AM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Help is on the way to Burlington-area businesses owned by Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC). The city’s Department of Racial Equity is putting $180,000 of COVID relief money into owners’ pockets.

It’s been a tough year for small businesses, especially businesses owned by people of color. According to the Racial Equity Department, many of them have been excluded from federal COVID relief support, which is why the city is stepping in to lend them a hand.

“Having an extra boost of cash is really appreciated,” said Maggie Hazard, who owns Wise Rose Beauty in downtown Winooski.

While most shop owners had already established themselves and their customer base prior to COVID, that wasn’t the case for Hazard. She opened up her salon five months into the pandemic. She says that hindered her ability to get the word out.

“If we were able to have a grand opening and be more in the community then things would probably be extremely busy,” she said.

Due to capacity limits for indoor spaces, Hazard says she’s only booking appointments for two of her four salon chairs.

“You know, you’re losing income on not having those chairs being used,” she said.

It’s a similar situation at food truck Jamaican Supreme and Taste of Abyssinia, a local kitchen that serves Ethiopian and Eritrean cuisine and hosts pop-up dinners and cooking classes.

Jamaican Supreme owner and chef Richie Bailey says he didn’t make any money this summer since there were no festivals or events.

“I’ve been literally going into everything I’ve got saved to stay afloat,” he said.

Bailey says a friend noticed he was having a hard time and helped him move into a storefront off of Lime Kiln Road. Bailey says he has started to make money again and the storefront has been successful.

“Everything that I spend right now is from that storefront. Everything else is just the mercy of fate,” Bailey said. “Getting a storefront is something I really wanted. Then COVID hit and someone saw me struggling and they helped me out there and I appreciate that because it made me more stronger so that I can help other people.”

Alganesh Michael, the owner of Taste of Abyssinia, says she hasn’t held classes or large dinner parties since last January due to restrictions on gathering sizes.

“I got as far as Montpelier taking my food with me and working with other restaurant owners, so I have not done that now. I think the last time I did a big event like that was in January of last year. And when I host dinner, I have anywhere between 100 to 120 or so [people], so I can’t do that anymore so that affected me,” Michael said. “The cooking classes that I did for the last four years-- I have not been able to do that because of COVID because of the gathering limitation. I think it was early December, I started doing virtual classes. So now I am exploring this area where I can do it from home.”

Michael said she is now offering takeout. She says she regularly gets a lot of orders.

“I have a limited number of customers that I take, but it’s been more than I can take every week,” she said, “It’s been going very well, so I am very happy with that.”

All three business owners say the boost from the city of Burlington is a major relief.

“Once we open it, I’m hoping to hire one or two part-timers to help me in the kitchen,” said Michael. “Also, there a few things that I would like to invest in, like getting my website-- have a professional person look at it and add some pictures to it. I would like to hire someone and get it friendly to customers. Maybe we could do pay online and then hopefully, I will be able to have my menu on a calendar so they can see it and they can plan ahead.”

“What that does for me-- it helps me to get some appliances, some equipment that I need to make my business stronger, like a freezer, cooler,” said Bailey.

“I think it also kind of hits on a bigger level of the city of Burlington not only recognizing Black-owned businesses but valuing them and supporting them for people to enjoy our services and what we offer,” said Hazard.

According to the Racial Equity Department, the grants covered a wide range of industries and services including food, beauty, exercise, language access, legal aid and mental health.

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