Wednesday, March 11, 2009

How far is too far to "buy black"?

How far would you travel to spend money with a business, just because someone of your own ethnic group owned it?

The Chicago Tribune ran a story recently about a black couple doing the "Ebony Experiment", that is, spending all their money this year with only black-owned businesses. They drive 14-miles to shop at a grocery store owned by African-Americans, for example.

I'm torn on how I felel about it. On one hand, it's a great social and economic experiment, especially for an African-American family with young children. One of the greatest ills hitting the black community is our economic sickness: unemployment, even without a recession, is always higher in black neighborhoods while income, wealth, home and business ownership is down. In the neighborhood I grew up in, which is overwhelmingly black by population, there hasn't been a new home built or a significant business opened in my lifetime. Since we know that small businesses, no matter who owns them, account for most of the new job creation in this country, it makes sense for an economically-lagging ethnic group to champion their own entrepreneurs.

And hell, small businesses in Jewish enclaves, Chinatowns and Little Italies across the country thrive, primarily on regulars from around the way.

All that said, there's something dated and difficult about resolving to ONLY support black-owned businesses. This 2009, not pre-1970 when the concentration of small, black-owned shops in black neighborhoods was high out of necessity. A lot of those businesses went the way of the dinosaur because their only selling proposition was that they were black, you were black and because of that, you weren't going to be tossed out or treated poorly. The problem was that often, their prices were higher, merchandise or quality of service was poor and because they were the only game in town, you were likely to be treated poorly.

Today, our money spends anywhere and consumer data show that black folk spend it more freely than anyone else. And that we appreciate quality: check Target Market News for the stats if you don't believe me. Today, black folk need more of a reason than "I'm black" to buy from your store, and that's a good thing to the extent is symbolizes our disposable income is valued by whomever we spend it with.

So which side of the coin is shiner to you (and you don't have to be black to answer this question)? Would you travel 14 miles to buy all your groceries from, say, an Italian-owned mom & pop business just because you're an Italian-American? Is the lure of improving your community economically a stronger one than getting good deals with your hard-earned money?


Mary said...

I make it a rule of thumb that I only support businesses that provide world class customer service. I refuse to support a business just because the owner is black or any other race for that matter.

I shop where the service is excellent. Case in point with in walking distance from my house there are atleast 5 hair salons that I can go to. BUT I dont... My hair dress is a 30 minute drive and the service is second to none. I am willing to go that extra mile when the service is worth it.

Mia6998 said...

It's funny because I live in Harlem so you would think that I always support black owned businesses...BUT the 2 grocery stores near me are Hispanic owned. So I support a lot of minority businesses but not necessarily black owned.

Butterrfly said...

I have very strong opinions on this particular topic… you are really hitting on one of my hot button issues today. For the sake of brevity, my standpoint on supporting business of any form is not based at all on ethnicity, religion, race, ... et al. Personally, I feel that as a business owner, ultimately the reputation/equity of your brand should be built upon the quality of the service and/or goods you provide. It, to me, is absurd that a business person would have the audacity to demand/expect consumers spend their hard earned dollars with them for the primary reason of shared skin colour. That’s just inane.

Now don’t get me wrong, I do ultimately want to patronize black owned businesses… certainly gives me a warm fuzzy feeling in my heart. Shopping memories of Carol’s Daughter shoppe in Fort Greene Brooklyn, before it hit mass distribution levels, come back to me. 10+ years ago I bought her products because she had a unique concept and products that were like any other at the time. Moreover, the store itself was warm, neat and well stocked; sales people were informed, friendly and attentive. That’s pretty much the winning combo for me as a consumer.

Point blank, the playing ground is level when it comes to me spending my money. If you have a good product or service at a reasonable price you have a fair shot at my purse.