Black east side business owners say pandemic is threatening area’s economic revival

A group of Black business owners say they are struggling with qualifying for a city assistance program created to soften the economic blow from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Their plea for help on Tuesday coincided with the Oklahoma City Council adding $9.25 million in CARES Act funding to the business continuity program, and the unveiling of a plan by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber to address economic inequality and racism.

Oklahoma City launched a rapid response effort two weeks after the pandemic hit locally, plowing millions of dollars from an economic development fund approved by voters for job creation into a business continuity program.

The city council approved adding $6 million of CARES Act funding to the program, bringing the total to $22.5 million. That figure is expected to allow all qualified applications to date to be paid.

Quintin Hughes, one of several east side business owners addressing the council, said a related minority relief program needs more consideration of unique circumstances faced by minority businesses, including those on NE 23, the main retail corridor for the predominantly Black community.

“The pandemic is devastating our emerging economic ecosystem and placing our renaissance at risk,” said Hughes, who is a board member of Northeast Renaissance OKC. “Few of those businesses have had the knowledge, confidence, and the required documentation or technical support to navigate the application process. This has made the businesses that are the backbone of our economy that much more vulnerable to closure.”

Some of the businesses are in the new East Pointe at NE 23 and Rhode Island, the first major retail development on the east side in more than 30 years.

Jabee Williams, who was set to open a restaurant earlier this year, said he had to scrap the original concept due to the changes brought on by the pandemic, order new equipment and delay opening.

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