Sean Smith, the owner of Jax Service Center on Elm Street in Cortland, remembers when he first moved to Cortland in 1999 how few Black people there were.
“When first I moved up here, I could count the Black people on my fingers,” he said. “Now, when I walk down the street, I see them all over the place.”
As Black people have become more prevalent in the city, so too have the number of Black business owners like Smith.
Smith and eight other Black business owners in and around Cortland participated in Saturday’s event supporting Black business owners at The Squeeze Juice Bar in Cortland.
“This is an event to acknowledge the other businesses because a lot of businesses, Black-owned businesses, that are around are not known of,” said Darris McDowell, an organizer of the event and the owner of the juice bar. “Nobody knows we’re here. Even me, nobody knows I’m here. So this is a push to help the Black-owned businesses get acknowledged and also help other people who want to open up businesses.”
Black-owned businesses that were honored Saturday:
- Sean Smith, Jax Service Center
- Darris McDowell, The Squeeze juice bar
- Walt Davis, Tag Me 607
- Mike Pittman, MTS Taxi
- Tylisha Dennis, Ty’s Cuisine
- Antoine Rogers, SlickTalker Photography
- Tim Bennett, FunFlicks Indoor and Outdoor Movies
- Jean Edourd, Art Temple
- Steve Williams, community activist
Cortland Mayor Brian Tobin and Bob Haight, the president and CEO of the Cortland County Chamber of Commerce, presented certificates of recognition to the business owners, noting their importance in the community and their contribution to helping create a more equal Cortland.
“We are better and stronger when we work with one another,” Tobin said.
A raffle also took place for gifts donated by businesses. All of the proceeds went to community programs hosted by The Squeeze Juice Bar, including a backpack drive in September.
McDowell said that he has heard negative things about him being a Black business owner only indirectly and that overall, his experience has been pleasant in Cortland.
But he does want to see more Black- and minority-owned businesses in the city.
“We just need to push more and this is to show everyone that it’s possible,” he said.
Colin Spencer/staff reporter
Michael Pittman, right, speaks Saturday while Darris McDowell, left, and Cortland Mayor Brian Tobin listen after Pittman was presented a certificate of recognition. Pittman and other Black business owners were participants in an event at The Squeeze Juice Bar in Cortland meant to recognize and support Black buisness owners in and around Cortland.
Michael Pittman, the owner of MTS Taxi Cab, who started his business in February, said that he has been supported by the community.
“It’s been phenomenal so far,” he said.
While the coronavirus pandemic hit right as his business was starting, Pittman said the virus has helped him accept the realities of being a business owner and that there are many struggles to go along with the successes.
But he said he has stuck through it, which he thanks in part to his hard-work mentality.
The lack of that sentiment may be what is holding back other Black people — and any entrepreneur — from getting into business ownership, especially the smaller, day-to-day realities of what running a business is like, he said.
“There are a lot of people out there with million-dollar ideas,” he said. “You just gotta have that mentality.”
Pittman also said he hoped to learn from the other business owners about their experiences and understand what their businesses have to offer for the community.
Like Pittman, Smith said his experience as a Black business owner in Cortland has been good and has been supported by the customers.
His only real struggles have come when applying for loans, though he wasn’t sure that was attributed to race.
“I want everybody to succeed in life,” he said. “Not just me. Not just Darris (McDowell). Everybody.”