A few weeks ago, Cortland residents Darris McDowell and Jeff Smith were hanging out at McDowell’s business, The Squeeze at The Beach House Mall on Main Street in Cortland.
McDowell, a Black business owner, was deep in a conversation with Smith, thinking of ways to recognize Black-owned businesses in the greater Cortland area, in light of the recent Black Lives Matter movement.
Out of that conversation came the Black Business Owners and Community Leaders’ Appreciation Day, which will be 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday at The Squeeze.
“We want to shed some light on this opportunity and show people the positive things Black businesses are doing in this community,” Smith said.
Mayor Brian Tobin and Bob Haight, executive director of the Cortland County Chamber of Commerce, will present certificates of appreciation to Black business owners.
“From our standpoint, this ceremony is a chance for recognition and to say thank you to these business owners,” Haight said.
Along with McDowell, other Black business owners — Mike Pittman of MTS Taxi Cab, Walt Davis of Tag Me 607, Sean Smith of JAX Service Center and Tim Bennett of Fun Flicks — will be presented certificates.
The event, said Smith, is also a meet-and-greet between the owners and the community. Gift certificates from Community Restaurant and Garcia’s Mexican Restaurant will be raffled.
“A lot of businesses owned by Black people have been here for a while, and they haven’t been recognized enough,” said Melissa Kiser, coordinator for the Cortland Black Lives Matter organization. “This event can change that notion.”
“Building relationships with business owners is important,” McDowell said. “A lot of people don’t know that there are Black business owners in this town, so this event will give them the recognition they deserve.”
He added the event is “a push for people of color to own a business, and for the youth to follow their dreams if they want to own a business someday.”
“A lot of people don’t want to own businesses because they’re scared they’ll fail or too scared to try,” McDowell said. “I was scared at first, and getting The Squeeze going at first was tough, but looking back I’m glad I did it.”
Haight said minority-owned businesses face tremendous struggles on a regular basis, and sometimes capital, grants or loans might not be available to them as opposed to a white entrepreneur.
“It’s an added burden for potential business owners out there,” he said. “Thankfully, they’re overcoming challenges and have persevered. They’re blazing a trail for others to follow in their footsteps.”
Kiser said there’s a stigma attached to Black-owned businesses, adding that “people tend to avoid businesses of color.”
“It’s really valuable to take a chance and have an experience with these Black business owners,” she said. “It also supports downtown and the community at the same time.”