Black- and Woman-Owned: Business in the Shadow of COVID-19 

Creating opportunity

by RaeAnne Marsh

Building their businesses here in Phoenix, these two black women business owners had little in common — until the COVID-19 pandemic wrought disruption indiscriminately throughout the economy and put us all in the same boat.

Retail is commonly acknowledged to be the hardest-hit sector. As a concessionaire with gift stores in airport terminals, Lachele Mangum’s retail enterprise is tied to travel, which piles on additional challenge.

“The way airports work now, they’re like malls. It’s a shopping experience,” Mangum says. “You’re not just traveling but spending a little more dwell time in the airport so you can have time to shop. And there’s some great shopping, great restaurants, great places to purchase wonderful gifts.” Pre-COVID, she means. 

The owner of concession stands in terminals 3 and 4 — where, she says, more than 98 percent of locations are closed — and terminals 1 and 2 at San Diego, Mangum says, “It’s probably going to take us a couple of years to get back to 2019 numbers. It’s going to take some time for travelers to regain their confidence and start traveling again. Experts in the aviation industry are estimating it’s going to take a couple of years. Possibly even 2023. It’s going to be a slow climb back.” She points to the airport’s efforts in providing signage for people to wear their protective gear as one way to build up travelers’ confidence. 

Rebuilding travelers’ confidence may be the biggest challenge, but it’s not the only one. Says Mangum, “It’s tough right now. There’s a challenge from supply chain because trucks aren’t supplying the way that they did pre-COVID, so getting supplies when you need them is definitely a challenge. From employee standpoint, the unemployment people are getting makes it difficult to get them to come back to work. I think that will change when unemployment is up. That will probably make it a little easier to get workers. I’ve tried to get people to come back to work, and many have said they’d rather wait until their unemployment is done.”

Realizing it’s also important they feel safe coming to work, she has hand-sanitizer stations withing the stores, installed guards at the counter, supplied employees with face masks and hand sanitizer, and is providing time for them to wash their hands. 

And of course, debt service has to be paid whether the business is open or not. “So far, the bank is working with us,” Mangum says. “But how long can the bank work with us? We don’t know.”

Getting a bank to work with her was part of the challenge launching her business. The Airport Concessionaires Disadvantaged Business Entity program, established in 1987 to level the playing field for minority- and woman-owned businesses to get into airport concessions, helped open the opportunity for her but winning the bid gave her no edge for funding. One of the hurdles: “Banks want to know what your collateral is. At the airport, you don’t own that property; the city does.” Lack of collateral and experience weighted heavier than her MBA and several years in business as general manager of a consulting company, and the major bank with which she had been a customer for more than 20 years turned down her loan application. “And that’s sad,” she observes. But she found a smaller bank and credits its help of mentors and supporting special programs designed for concessions. 

“Establishing a new business can be difficult for anybody; but being a black woman creates some additional challenges as well,” says Mangum, who was one of the first black women to own a concession at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport.

There are many black-owned and Hispanic-owned businesses at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, Mangum says, but it’s not something that is generally known. “It’s different from a street-side business, where you’re standing there all the time and people kind of figure that out, that you own the business.” Sharing that she feels it’s important for people to know there are black-owned businesses at the airport, she says, “But we don’t publicize it.” 

For Alterations and Creations owner Tina Marie Eaves, retail was part of her solution when COVID-19 disrupted her dry-cleaning business. 

“The pandemic affected us because not many people are getting their dry cleaning done every day,” Eaves says. So, she cut her business’s hours of operation and scaled back on pick-up and delivery from daily to Monday-Wednesday-Friday.

And she started printing bags and T-shirts for individuals and organizations, with a direct-to-garment printer. “We stepped up on that to augment the business and keep our doors open.” 

She is also manufacturing masks for sale, taking orders and mailing them out all over the country from her location on Roosevelt Row. “And we’ve donated lots of masks, in particular to the Navajo Nation and the military.” Her clientele help boost those donations. “We’re a very tight-knit community,” she says. “As they come in to get masks, they donate also.” 

With the Black Lives Matter movement prominently in the headlines currently, In Business Magazine asked Eaves if being black and female had erected their own challenges to her business. “I don’t have any additional challenges, if you really want to know the truth,” she shares. “I’ve been established here for so long. I’ve been in business for 31 years.” And she notes, “This is a very inclusive area. 

“Every now and then we’ll get somebody who gets a little snippy. I just put them out; I tell them ‘I don’t need your money.’” Although she says, “I’ve been very fortunate all this time,” she notes, “This isn’t luck — I worked at it.” That includes going to college for business courses.

A Phoenix transplant, Eaves is originally from Minnesota. “When I came here, I was coming through here,” she relates, “and I was at the airport. I was looking at the kind of cars they drove, looking at the kind of lifestyle they had, looking at the people, and I looked at how many people had alterations/dressmaking [businesses]. Now mind you, I have a reputation. I worked for Prince in Minnesota, so I came with a reputation. And I used it to my advantage.”

Eaves is completely self-funded. “I’ve paid my way all this time. Never taken a loan from anyone,” she says. Using money she had saved from previous employment, Eaves opened her business in 1989, starting with contract work doing the alterations for all the JC Penney stores in the Valley. “JC Penney was the No. 1 men’s suit seller in the world at that time. So I knew I needed to have a nice location — nice dressing room, nice ambience, professional looking — so that I could not just do the men’s suits at JC Penney, but if the men had to come to me personally I would get them as my personal clients also. At that time,” she recalls, “there was no other business down here. Just me. And the homeless.”

Eaves was one of the first businesses to open on Roosevelt Row, where she moved from her first address in 2001, coincidentally within days of the opening of the area’s iconic Mon Orchid, which mirrored on the east side of Central Avenue her own address to the west. “I’ve been established long enough to have a core clientele and I’m very grateful to them. I’ve always been able to maintain a level of quality that they’re looking for. That’s what people in this area are looking for. These are all professionals down here. … Professors, doctors, lawyers, police officers, other business owners. I’m very fortunate to be in this location.”  

Tina Marie Eaves

Owner and Operator
Alterations and Creations
214 W. Roosevelt St., Phoenix
(602) 277-9952

 

Lachele Mangum

President and CEO
LAM Holdings
4960 S. Gilbert Rd., Chandler
linkedin.com/in/lachele-mangum-mba-0984386b

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