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New NCRC report affirms small businesses help maintain cultural identity of communities

Arts & Culture

In a new report from the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, 10 Black business owners in historically Black neighborhoods discuss the cultural significance of small businesses and how they have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Focusing on communities in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, Maryland, researchers shared these key takeaways: Small businesses help maintain the cultural identity of communities, and they need support now more than ever.

The NCRC study, “The COVID Pandemic and Its Impacts On Culturally-Significant Businesses,” had two important goals: (1) to arrive at a meaning for culturally significant businesses that allow designation to drive programs and investment across different communities, and (2) to uncover and disseminate information on how these culturally significant businesses fared during the COVID-19 pandemic.

All business owners interviewed for the study noted their location in a historic Black neighborhood and saw their role in the creation and maintenance of that history. They also asserted that their businesses contributed to maintaining the Black culture of their neighborhoods. Unfortunately, they all were forced to make major changes to their operations during the pandemic due to difficulty in accessing pandemic assistance intended for small businesses.

View the interactive Baltimore Story Map and the Washington, D.C. Story Map

Businesses along the 1700 block of Pennsylvania Avenue in Baltimore. Photo by Eli Pousson of Baltimore Heritage via Flickr.

“In the American public sphere today, there is a lot of talk about culture and its significance in our everyday lives,” wrote the authors. “In U.S. urban centers, the loss of traits that make communities unique and meaningful, particularly to long-term residents, is often due to the impacts of gentrification, redlining, environmental injustices, and the lack of sustained, community-based investment. Yet, the exact meaning of ‘cultural significance’ is not definitively understood. This lack of a clear definition makes it difficult to support direct investment into culturally significant businesses, such as COVID-19 relief that can be critical to business owners and the community members who patronize them.”

Authors of the report shared they hope stakeholders, community leaders, lenders and policymakers can use the information to craft policies, programs and legislation that support culturally significant businesses.

“These are the businesses that are critical to defining and promoting communities that have faced obstacles in the face of natural disasters, economic recessions and systemic inequality.” 

NCRC was formed in 1990 by national, regional and local organizations to increase the flow of private capital into traditionally underserved communities. NCRC has grown into an association of more than 600 community-based organizations that promote access to basic banking services, affordable housing, entrepreneurship, job creation and vibrant communities for America’s working families. Members include community reinvestment organizations, community development corporations, local and state government agencies, faith-based institutions, community organizing and civil rights groups, minority and women-owned business associations, and social service providers from across the nation.

Funding for this study was provided by Kresge’s Arts & Culture Program and American Express.

Download the full report. Learn more about the National Community Reinvestment Coalition by visiting or follow the organization on Twitter at @NCRC.