Credit: (Image courtesy of California Governor via Facebook)

Breanna Reeves |

Two years ago, on March 19, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom issued a stay at home order across California, mandating residents to stay in their homes and for non-essential businesses to close. Newsom issued the executive order as COVID-19 cases began to rapidly increase in the state, making California the first state to establish a stay at home order.

“To protect public health, I as State Public Health Officer and Director of the California Department of Public Health order all individuals living in the State of California to stay home or at their place of residence except as needed to maintain continuity of operations of the federal critical infrastructure sectors,” the order stated. 

Residents and business owners felt the impact of the order almost immediately as businesses shuttered and Californians grappled with working from home, distance learning and a rapidly spreading virus.

According to a Yelp Economic Average Report from September 2020, California was one of three states with the highest rate of total and permanent business closures (along with Hawaii and Nevada). The report noted that California experienced more than 19,000 permanent closures and roughly 20,000 temporary closures which contributed to high unemployment rates in the state. 

During the start of the pandemic, thousands of businesses closed, some of which shuttered permanently (Image courtesy of Erik Mclean via Unsplash).

Before the pandemic, in September 2019, the California Employment Development Department cited the unemployment rate as 3.9%. In September 2020, the unemployment rate rose to 11%. 

A U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics survey of how businesses operated throughout the pandemic found that between July 2020 to September 2020, 48% of establishments in arts, entertainment and recreation, employing 1.6 million workers, experienced a government-mandated closure during the COVID-19 pandemic, the highest rate of government-mandated closures of any industry.

Black business owners, as well as other business owners of color, were severely impacted by the pandemic. 

The National Bureau of Economic Research published a working paper on the impact on COVID-19 on small business owners. It  found that over the two-month “crucial” period during the beginning of the pandemic, (February to April 2020) Black business owners dropped by 41%, Latino business owners decreased by 32% and Asian business owners by 26%, compared to 17% for white business owners.

Despite these losses, a lot of Black-owned businesses grew during the pandemic. From event planning to flea markets to catering services, Black entrepreneurs launched businesses despite a precarious economy.

How one Black female entrepreneur persevered

Nina RoZá has been an entrepreneur since she was about 20 years old when she opened her own clothing store, Diamonds and Pearls. Since then, RoZá has pursued many business ventures including owning a film company, restaurants, clothing line and catering trucks. Recently, she became the new owner of the historic and cultural monument Maverick’s Flat on Crenshaw.

Previously a music venue that debuted iconic Black artists like Marvin Gaye, Maverick’s Flat was founded by John Daniels and opened in 1966. The music venue became known for fostering culture, arts and music within the community. 

Formerly known as Maverick’s Flat, the historic music venue located on Crenshaw is now the Nina RoZá venue, owned by Nina RoZá (Image courtesy of Nina RoZá).

As the new owner of the iconic venue, RoZá had a lot of plans for the venue which involved renovating the space and rebranding. Renovating the venue proved to be difficult during the pandemic with delays and restrictions placed on certain industries like construction.

“During the pandemic, it was rough [and] everything was shut down. I didn’t know, really, how I was going to do it,” RoZá explained. Throughout the renovation process, RoZá said she had faith and had to trust the process despite the obstacles she faced.

Despite the difficulties associated with renovating a new business during the state-wide lockdown, RoZá explained that “chance met opportunity.” Part of her vision was to make the space feel more upscale, as well as changing the use of the space from a music venue to a multi-purpose venue used for hosting events, music shoots and parties. 

As a south central Los Angeles native, RoZá grew up being told that she was someone who wasn’t going to amount to anything. She decided to bring luxury to the Leimert Park venue and hopes the space will be somewhere local talent can use for performing. 

The Nina RoZá venue is two stories and has a capacity of 400 people (Image courtesy of Nina RoZá).

“God has something different planned for me. So, my thing is to be able to show the same little girls and boys where I come from [that] if I can do it, they can do it,” RoZá said.

Businesses owned by Black Entrepreneurs Grew Despite COVID-19 Challenges 

While underrepresented small business owners were greatly impacted by the pandemic, these owners managed to grow as the pandemic continued. Robert Fairlie, a University of California at Santa Cruz economist and author of a 

working paper, continued to analyze data on active businesses through the third quarter of 2021. 

According to Fairlie’s analysis, the data indicated a 33% increase in Black male business owners from the first quarter of 2020 to the third quarter of 2021, the highest percentage change among all demographics. Black female active business owners made up the second highest percentage at 22%. 

With California recently relaxing the last of COVID-19 restrictions such as indoor mask mandates with a few exceptions (public transit, hospitals and congregate living settings), the state is on a path of returning to a pre-pandemic way of life. 

While the pandemic completely altered every aspect of society, it also became the catalyst for positive changes. The White House published the results of a limited survey of small business owners and noted, “Americans are applying to start new businesses at a record rate, up about 30 percent compared to before the pandemic.”

RoZá offered some advice for rising entrepreneurs, explaining that while she may not have an official degree behind the work she is doing, she has the talent and the dedication to achieve her goals.

“Whatever you put your mind to, you can do. ” RoZá insisted. “Just because you may not have a degree in this and you don’t have experience in this doesn’t mean that you can’t do it.”

Breanna Reeves

Breanna Reeves is a reporter in Riverside, California, and uses data-driven reporting to cover issues that affect the lives of Black Californians. Breanna joins Black Voice News as a Report for America Corps member. Previously, Breanna reported on activism and social inequality in San Francisco and Los Angeles, her hometown. Breanna graduated from San Francisco State University with a bachelor’s degree in Print & Online Journalism. She received her master’s degree in Politics and Communication from the London School of Economics. Contact Breanna with tips, comments or concerns at or via twitter @_breereeves.