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Minority-Owned Businesses Among The Most Vulnerable During COVID-19

AP Photo/Charles Krupa

Small businesses across the Peoria area are struggling to keep their doors open amid the COVID-19 crisis, but minority-owned businesses may be among the most in jeopardy.

Cesar Suarez is senior business development specialist for the city of Peoria, as well as a member of the Greater Peoria Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Suarez said while all small businesses are scrambling to adapt under the shelter in place rules, minority and immigrant-owned businesses face a unique set of challenges.

"The first barrier is dealing with the kind of funding they use to start up their business, which is predominantly their own cash, whereas other cases may have more of a support network and more financing available through loans and so on,” he said.

Suarez said businesses that have been open for under three years and don’t have a strong financial paper trail may have trouble qualifying for various funding options. He said that includes a number of restaurants and other Hispanic-owned businesses.

Non-English speaking business owners may also have trouble navigating government relief programs due to the language barrier, Suarez said. Plus, there's a cultural tendency to not be willing to ask for help.

“They're very independent. They start their businesses that way — they don't ask anybody, just start their business and go on their merry way,” he said. “It’s a cultural thing I’ve noticed in Latino businesses. They don't want the government around so much. They'd rather just be left alone — and that prevents them from accessing funding and financing."

Suarez said many Hispanic-owned restaurants, in particular, have started to offer curbside pickup, catering, and delivery via apps like DoorDash and GrubHub. But he said potential customers often have trouble finding out if those businesses are even still open and what services they’re offering during the pandemic.

Updating business listings online and maintaining an active virtual presence can help, he said. Still, many aren’t seeing as much foot traffic.

“I’ve talked to a few of them that have said they’ve lost anywhere from 50 to 90 percent of their business, as a result of this,” he said.

Suarez said he encourages businesses to develop a financial strategy that prioritizes grants first, then forgivable loans, and other low-interest, flexible financing options as a last resort.

He said the city’s economic development website, growpeoria.com, offers resources ranging from how to apply for business assistance programs to tips for renegotiating lease agreements. That site can be translated into a number of languages using the indicators in the top right corner.

Suarez said business owners can also reach out to him if they need help considering their options or translating between English and Spanish. He can be contacted at csuarez@peoriagov.org or 309-494-8645.

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Dana Vollmer is a reporter with WGLT. Dana previously covered the state Capitol for NPR Illinois and Peoria for WCBU.