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After COVID pandemic, Black-owned businesses are relying on customers, not aid

Some businesses were able to weather the COVID pandemic, while others are still coming back.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The COVID pandemic was hard on Saibo Kebbeh and his import shop on Allen Street. He’s still paying back the rent he owes his landlord. 

"One time they asked me, did you get any money from the government? I said no, and whatever the people that support my business and the little things, I’m getting. I’m paying you out of that," he said.

He says they’re willing to work with him, and since restrictions have been lifted and more people are out and about, the foot traffic has brought in more business.

"People was tired of staying home. They want to go out and that’s helped us a lot," he said.

The traditional stream of revenue is what Saibo says he’s going to continue relying on as he recovers from the four months his store was closed. 

Even as the mayor announced that American Rescue Plan funds would go toward helping minority-owned businesses, Saibo says he’ll apply, but he has low expectations. 

Lauren Jackson’s situation is a bit different.

"We didn’t qualify for anything because of how long we’ve been open. We were only open for two weeks, so most of the guidelines for funding were to be open at least a year. 2019, you had to have your business taxes, so when I tell you we really had to figure out how to make it work," she said.

Lauren opened the Hair Hive on Fillmore Avenue with her sisters just two weeks before businesses had to shut down. She told 2 On Your Side they quickly found a way to pivot.

"We applied for the essential business certificate through New York State, and then we started selling masks and hand sanitizer so we could open the doors to our customers," she said.

Selling personal protection equipment was a lifesaver, she says, and the customers came naturally. 

"Even in a recession or pandemic, people still want to feel good, they want to look good. They want to do their hair, they want to do their makeup, even if they’re just sitting in the house," Lauren said.

That need has increased as things have opened up, and like Saibo, Lauren says she’s ready to keep bringing in customers and keep pushing her business forward.