El Paso’s Black-owned businesses get a boost in 2020

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Courtesy of Confidence via Adobe Stock

The Black Lives Matter movement helped bring attention to local Black-owned businesses earlier in the year.

Daniela Ramos, Contributor

El Paso is a predominantly Hispanic city, but Black entrepreneurs are still leaving their mark here through various industries like food and beverage and real estate. However, they still face challenges unique to Black business owners.

“I just knew that I had the opportunity to sell shaved ice, and as for the means to get there, you just have to set them in motion,” Kenneth Broomfield of Blue-Collar Ice said during a webinar hosted by the El Paso Chamber of Commerce and the El Paso Young Black Leaders.

Blue Collar Ice, a mobile food truck selling shaved ice and waffles to El Paso and surrounding areas, came to life after Broomfield decided to chase his dream.

“I’ve always kept a day job in which I use my profession, graphic design, so you have to use your job sometimes to build your dreams,” Broomfield said. “What it actually comes down to is execution.”

According to Kellie Evans of JS House of Fashion during the webinar, trial and error tends to be the most common method when building a business but having someone to help and guide you through it all is essential.

“We had to trial and error because we didn’t get any help, that’s why I wanted to put myself in this position to help others because sometimes you want to get started but you don’t know how and it’s frustrating. It can deter you from what you really want to achieve,” said Evans, whose clothing line offers customization of different garments and accessories, as well as her original and unique fashion designs.

The webinar was dubbed “Black Wall Street Showcase” and the first one was held in the last week of August, mostly based on entrepreneurial experience, according to Dr. Richard Pineda, chair of the department of communication at UTEP and moderator of the event.

“As part of the initiatives that the El Paso Chamber has launched over the course of two years, small business has remained a primary focus,” Pineda said. “For this, the chamber has partnered with different organizations in an attempt to reach out to new businesses here in El Paso and explain what they have done to be successful.”

According to EPYBL’s Facebook page, the organization has been calling attention to the unexpected opportunities available to people looking to embark on a new business venture amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

While one of the focuses of the August webinar was to discuss start-up capital and business ideas, it also aimed at elaborating on the business environment new Black business owners might experience in El Paso.

“We also want to talk about the opportunities and challenges that are unique to El Paso,” Pineda said. “What complications or opportunities exist by being a minority business owner, in this particular case, being a Black owner, especially since some may not be originally from El Paso.”

Evans told The Prospector she has been supported by the El Paso community for the two years she’s been involved with the city.

“However, I think Black people aren’t taken as seriously as white entrepreneurs,” Evans said. “They don’t think we can be professional, so that’s part of what we want, to show that we can display decorum, morale, excellent customer service and that we can be professionals too.”

Being a female entrepreneur has also presented problems for Evans and JS House of Fashion, co-owned by her husband.

“Being a woman has absolutely been a problem, ” Evans said. “I have to rise higher to the occasion; I have to be more assertive or aggressive to get my point across.”

When doing business, Evans said there is a notable bias in how people judge a business if it’s run by a woman rather than a man.

“You don’t want people to see you because of how you look or how you present yourself, instead you want them to see what you can bring to the table,” Evans said. “In the past, most of the business was directly referred to my husband even though I was also a co-owner.”

Evans advises all young entrepreneurs considering or planning to start a business to trademark their logo.

“Invest in social media, you have to market to stay visible, but don’t rely on it. Instead, get involved in your community, serve in different locations and announce yourself,” Evans said.

“There’s really no specific guide on how to do it. You can do it on your own and it’ll be a challenge, but it will also be one of the best you’ll ever have.”

Efforts have also been made by the El Paso community to bring attention to local Black-owned businesses earlier in the year.

On Juneteenth, a historic date marking the effective end of slavery in Texas and the United States, the El Paso Black Pages relaunched its directory online to promote Black business owners. Curtis Smith, director of El Paso Black Pages, told KVIA this was also done with the intent to challenge young Black entrepreneurs to start their own business.

However, Smith said some Black business owners do not wish to be promoted on the online directory, as they fear they might lose customers.

External factors, like the the summer’s racial equality protests, have also worked to bring awareness among the general population of the presence of local Black entrepreneurs.

Evans said the George Floyd protests helped put EPYBL on the spotlight.

“Events like these bring awareness of the Black community and what it goes through,” Evans said.

An article published by KFOX14 on June 2020 reported an increase in Black-owned business sales, during and after the protests.

“It’s picked up, I would say almost a 50% increase previous to what I was doing before all of this occurred,” said Ken Johnson, owner of Hawaii Kravings.

Due to the sudden rise in sales, according to the article, Black owned business owners mentioned they could both feel and see the strong support from the El Paso community.

“I feel like the situation that’s going on in the world is causing people to see the value in other people’s lives and bringing unity to the community,” Joseph Snell, CEO of Zion’s Bow Ties, told KFOX14.

Though Evans also saw an increase in sales during the nation-wide protests, she admits she hopes the attention the Black community has gotten recently isn’t ephemeral.

“Hopefully it sticks, all the new money coming into black owned business, and that it wasn’t a seasonal thing, or just because it was a trend,” Evans said. “These showcases aren’t only shedding light on black entrepreneurs in El Paso, but through them we’re also creating a networking system, not just within, but outside of our community as well.”

Daniela Ramos may be reached at [email protected]; @TheDaniRamos on Twitter.