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City grants boost Black businesses

Tanisha Bhat
City grants boost Black businesses
SPACE Grant Program recipient Teresa Maynard, owner of Sweet Teez. COURTESY PHOTO

Two dozen small-businesses owners, including some in Boston’s Black community, who were most affected by the pandemic will receive a financial boost from the city, Mayor Michelle Wu’s office announced this week.

They are the first recipients of the city’s grant program called Supporting Pandemic Affected Community Enterprises (SPACE). Each will receive $40,000 to $200,000, depending on their needs, over a three-year period to help cover anything from rental costs to upfront capital costs to much-needed infrastructure, the city said.

Altogether, the grant awards amount to $2.8 million.

“This grant program addresses commercial vacancies by connecting entrepreneurs with crucial support and the chance to grow,” said Wu in a press release. “The SPACE Grant Program is critical to bolstering our local economy and will help local, small, diverse businesses open new locations across our neighborhoods.”

The city’s announcement — coming a day before the NAACP convention kicks off in the Seaport — targets small, local businesses that provide childcare, fitness, art, food production, laundry, repair and maintenance, restaurant and retail services. All recipients must have fewer than 25 employees and operate within the city.

SPACE Grant Program recipient Brown Bear Excel Early Learning Center. COURTESY PHOTO

A press conference was slated for Wednesday with Wu, Segun Idowu, the city’s chief of economic opportunity and inclusion, Michael Nichols, president of the Downtown Boston BID, and grantee partners.

More than 350 businesses applied for the grants, with about 60% of applicants identifying as women and 50% as Black. Some of the recipients already have businesses open, and others will finally be able to open their own stores.

Recipients will also receive help from the city with other daunting components of operating a small business, such as lease negotiation, accounting, taxes, regulatory compliance and marketing, the city said. 

The program was first announced last year with the goal of filling vacant storefronts with local, small businesses, officials said. While the focus was on downtown revitalization, the business recipients are from all over the city, including Roxbury, Dorchester and Hyde Park.

Dawne Brown, who runs her Brown Bear Excel Early Learning Center for children up to age 5 out of her Readville home, said she received $200,000 from the grant program to put toward her own facility.

“This grant is helping me to realize all of my goals and my aspirations,” said Brown, who is seeking space to operate in Mattapan. “I couldn’t have done it [without the grant.] I would have to take out a loan or get investors or someone to grant me money.”

Brown said that her goal since 2016 has been to have her own daycare center. She initially registered her business in March 2020 but couldn’t open it because of the pandemic. She spent the next few months acquiring necessary appliances and renovating a portion of her home, she said. But one of her biggest initial struggles, Brown said, was getting customers, because so many parents were working from home. Things are finally starting to pick up.

“We had two children for a while, and now we have 10,” she said.

Teresa Maynard, owner of a nut-free bakery called Sweet Teez, said she plans to use the grant money to open her own storefront in Dorchester. Maynard operates her bakery through Commonwealth Kitchen, a nonprofit that provides support to culinary entrepreneurs.

SPACE Grant Program recipient Bold Skin Babe. COURTESY PHOTO

“I am a Dorchester girl born and raised, and I have this dream of opening up a Sweet Teez bakery right here in Dorchester,” she said. “It’s my neighborhood. It’s where I raise my kids. This SPACE grant means that I’m able to open up the bakery I’ve dreamed of.”

Maynard said access to capital has been her biggest hurdle. Big contracts often don’t pay until after she provides the service, which can make buying ingredients and making baked goods difficult.

“A lot of small businesses can’t play in the bigger arenas because they don’t have that capital to float them until the receivables come in,” she said.

Akou Diabakhate, founder of Bold Skin Babe, which specializes in Black skin care and beauty products, currently has two locations — one on Newbury Street and another in Brockton. She said she will use her SPACE grant to open another store in Downtown Crossing.

“When we started, there was … a new self-care movement that emerged with COVID, and I realized that there was no Black esthetician at that moment,” she said. “So all my clientele are Black and brown — that’s what my specialty is.”

Diabakhate said her company is still feeling the impact of the pandemic but is heavily supported by the community.

“When you go to Newbury, you will see that most of the businesses that survive are the small businesses, because they are supported by the community,” she said. “The reason why Bold Skin Babe is still surviving is because the community is always supporting us. They always come to us to get their services.”

Another application round for SPACE grants will open up in fall 2023.