“Our immediate priority is to ensure the businesses stay online, which is a key part of their viability and sustainability, and we're working hand-in-hand with local businesses to hear their concerns and address their needs."
- Nadine Spencer (President of the Black Business and Professional Association)
The Black Business and Professional Association (BBPA) is a nonprofit, charitable organization that has been operating for 38 years. The BBPA has over 2200 members across Canada and primarily serves Black businesses and professionals through its programs and training. In honour of Black History Month, the BBPA launched its Black Business Emergency Relief Grant (BBERG) for small Black businesses in the Eglinton West "Little Jamaica" community. The new grant will provide funding worth around $150,000 to businesses that have been affected by the COVID-19 second lockdown. The grant is assisted by the government as part of its continued efforts to support small businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our support recognizes the challenges faced by these businesses, especially in the second phase of the lockdown," stated President of the BBPA, Nadine Spencer. "We have these funds available for businesses in hopes that they can survive through the harsh winter months.” Toronto’s "Little Jamaica" is known for its vibrant Jamaican culture. The local business community has lots of Jamaican business owners who are keeping their cultural roots and community alive through food and arts. Their challenges began in 2011 with the construction of the ongoing Eglinton Crosstown LRT. The construction stopped much of the traffic and tourism to the local area. The pandemic has only added to the turmoil.
“Until the LRT construction limited traffic and COVID-19 hit, it was a place where people came from all over to dine, shop, and be entertained," says BBPA Treasurer, Michael Pinnock. "It wasn't just people from the GTA, but also tourists seeking authentic Caribbean culture, which is why it’s sad this area was so badly disadvantaged.” According to Spencer, a survey showed that most mainstream businesses have six months of cash flow while smaller businesses struggle from month to month. "Worse still, Little Jamaica doesn’t have the sorts of loans and lines of credit that other businesses have,” Spencer adds. BBPA will grant tiered funding ranging from $3,000, $5000, and $10,000 to qualified Black businesses in the area based on their needs, request, and application. To be eligible for the grant, the businesses are required to operate in "Little Jamaica" and be a member of the BBPA. Applications were available online during the first week of February 2021, and BBPA will be making decisions and with an announcement at the end of the second week of February 2021.
Jason McDonald is the owner of Casual Beauty Salon. He opened his shop in the community in 1994, but since 2013 his business has been badly affected by the LRT construction, and now the COVID-19 pandemic. For McDonald, this has been a horrible situation for his business. "The construction has blocked the roads and taken up all the parking space, our sidewalks are closed, and even the radio was telling people to avoid Eglinton West," says McDonald. "Neither stylists nor their customers want to come here." Concerning issues caused by construction, Mcdonald adds, “My shop has been flooded several times, but I haven’t received any compensation from Metrolinx so it was really difficult for us to do business freely." McDonald has lost about half of his employees and has to take on that workload himself to keep his business afloat. On a positive note, although the COVID-19 pandemic has also impacted his business, McDonald has at least received some level of support through rent and hydro relief. McDonald is one of the applicants of BBERG of BBPA. “The BBPA has been very good for us and I applaud their efforts to try to help the businesses on Eglinton West,” he adds.
Depending on the grant amount received, he is looking forward to strengthening the barber courses he's been giving online and preparing a space in his shop for students to come in-person after the lockdown. He also wants to construct a practice area for his employees and expand his services at his salon.
Despite its best efforts, the BBPA recognizes that this initiative is not enough for everyone and encourages funders to help local businesses cope during these difficult times. “We’re calling on all corporate citizens and the public to match our funds of $150,000 so we can try to raise at least $500,000," declares Spencer. “These are urgent times and though we're working to assist Little Jamaica, we'd like to have the resources to assist businesses from other neighbourhoods as well.” The Black Business Emergency Relief Grant is a component of BBPA’s Business Advisory Implementation Development Services (BAIDS) Program. BAIDS was established as part of the Black business COVID -19 sustainability and recovery strategy. Besides providing financial assistance to small businesses, BAIDS also tackles issues related to anti-black racism and provides corporate solutions to mitigate the hindrances faced by Black businesses. BAIDS caters to small-and medium-scale businesses, sole proprietorships, partnerships, family-owned businesses, and franchises. “We will continue to provide support and training to businesses through the BBPA and our programs are available for all businesses, but especially Black-led and Black-owned businesses,” promises Spencer.
The BBPA appears to be doing everything it can to support small businesses in "Little Jamaica", and if they have their way, Black businesses across Toronto.