Black-owned businesses in Iowa City see increased support since start of protests

Amid nationwide protests against systemic racism, calls on social media for Iowa City community members to support Black-owned business has led local business owners to see an increase in customers — which they say has been crucial for business they lost from COVID-19.


Jenna Galligan

Denise Chambers, owner of Christina’s Unity Beauty Supply, poses for a portrait on Thursday, June 18 inside the shop. The store sells wigs, lashes, extensions, and other beauty products.

Molly Allen, News Reporter

Amid nationwide protests against systemic racism, there has been a call for increased support of Black-owned businesses. Lists of Black-owned businesses in Iowa City have circulated on social media, and community members have offered them their support.

Erica Gooding, owner of Artisan Jewelry by Erica Gooding, runs her business and makes handmade jewelry derived from raw materials.

Gooding said that she primarily promotes her business at live events like the Arts Fest in downtown Iowa City. She said the global outbreak of the novel coronavirus, however, has interfered.

“I’m getting all of these acceptances and then COVID happened,” Gooding said. “One by one everyone has canceled.”

Gooding said she has struggled to make sales like she did prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. She also works as a nurse, however, and said she understands that a lack of live events to advertise her products is for public-safety purposes.

The website for Artisan Jewelry by Erica Gooding is seen on Thursday, June 18, 2020. Owner Erica Gooding creates custom jewelry from her home. Gooding typically travels to shows to sell her jewelry, but many of them have been cancelled this year due to COVID-19. (Jenna Galligan)

Gooding said she initially saw her business, among other Black-owned businesses in the area, circulating on social media about two weeks ago. She said her business subsequently received a surge of online orders and social media attention.

“Most of what I was shipping was going around this area, so that told me that this list that was circulating for Iowa had something to do with it,” Gooding said.

In addition to lists that advocated for Black-owned business, there were also social media posts listing which businesses have donated to President Trump’s 2020 campaign, Gooding said.

“We have a lot of buying power in this country,” Gooding said. “I personally have stores I don’t shop in because my core beliefs don’t align with who they’re giving money to.”

Owner Robert McLean of Island Vybz, a Caribbean Jamaican food truck, said he has noticed an increase in his customer base since the Black Lives Matter movement gained national attention.

RELATED: Black Lives Matter — two weeks of protests in Iowa City

When COVID-19 began to spread in the U.S, McLean said his business began to slow. Island Vybz caters to many events including weddings and parties, he said, which were canceled due to the pandemic.

He added that he felt lucky, however, because he was able to keep his truck open for takeout.

“It did slow us down a little, but we’re hanging on,” he said. “…I am so grateful and happy to see everyone come out to support.”

McLean said that while he is appreciative of the increased support of Black-owned businesses in Iowa City, he can sympathize with many other struggling restaurants and would like to see the community support local mom-and-pop restaurants.

Owner Robert McLean poses for a portrait outside the Island Vybz food truck on Thursday, June 18, 2020 parked on E Harrison St. The food truck specializes in Jamaican food, putting its own twist on burgers, pasta, and wraps. (Jenna Galligan)

“This is their livelihood,” McLean said. “This is what it takes to take care of their family.”

Denise Chambers has owned Christina’s Unity Beauty Supply since 2018. Her business sells wigs, hair extensions, and other beauty supplies.

Chambers said she shut down her business for two months when COVID-19 first forced businesses to close their doors. Her store remained closed amid the initial call-to-action to support Black-owned businesses, Chambers said, but reopened this week.

“It’s hard out here to have a business, period, but especially with the George Floyd stuff going on,” Chambers said.

Protests began nationwide in response to the death of Floyd — a Black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.

Gooding said she believes the attention and support the Black Lives Matter movement has since garnered can be sustained.

“I’m a glass half-full kind of person,” Gooding said. “This movement seems bigger.”