Engaging the African-American Small Business Community

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African Americans own about eight percent (two million) of all small businesses in the United States.1 Most African American-owned businesses tend to be locally grown and family owned, with deep community roots and strong connections to local residents. These small business owners and employees can serve as excellent trusted messengers.


Below are a few strategies to help you effectively reach African American-owned business owners, employees, and consumers.

  • Identify African American-Owned Businesses. Ask partners, volunteers and community members to identify the most popular local businesses. Learn the history of the store and the activism level of the owners (many are community leaders) and approach the most active first. These businesses below often are community staples:
    • Beauty Salons
    • Barber Shops
    • Soul Food Restaurants
    • Clothing Stores
    • Book Stores
    • Coffee Shops
    • Electronics/Gaming Stores
    • Nightclubs/Bars
    • Small Family-Owned Grocery Stores/Deli’s/Convenience Stores
    • Laundromats/Dry Cleaners
  • Do Your Research. Map out the community you serve and identify the small businesses.
  • Stop by and introduce yourself to the owner of the shop and ask if you can leave materials or set up a table on high-traffic days to distribute materials. Ask the shop owners when their high-traffic times are and who they usually see during those times.
  • Set up a weekly table if possible to solicit volunteers and/or educate the community.
  • Consider using shops and storefronts for visibility events.

For more support in starting your outreach, reach out to the local Black Chamber of Commerce to help you identify business owners in your community.

Initial Contact

Before you begin, consider the type of business and the owner’s level of community involvement; this will help you determine the appropriate requests to make.

Owner is very active in community and well-respected; business has high traffic 

Ask the owner to:

  • Display and distribute brochures or place posters in visible spaces.
  • Allow the store to be a site for visibility events.
  • Connect you to other key business owners and/or start a small business roundtable in that community.
  • Allow you time in the store to build relationships and spread the word that coverage is available.

Owner is not very active in the community; business has high traffic 

Ask the owner to:

  • Display and distribute brochures and literature or to place posters in visible spaces.
  • Allow the store to be a site for visibility events.
  • Identify ways to have the owner spread the word that coverage is available to their employees and customers.

Store Type and Specific Activities

Barber Shops/Beauty Salons 

  • Meeting space after closing
  • Literature drop offs
  • Visibility events
  • Tabling
  • Small business conveners and messengers
  • Community speakers
  • Collecting health care-related stories from customers, employees, owners

Grocery/Convenience Stores 

  • Literature drop-offs
  • Leafleting with your literature outside of the store
  • Tabling (be sure to get permission from store manager beforehand)

Electronics/Clothing/Shoe Stores/Malls 

  • Literature drop-offs
  • Leafleting
  • Tabling including Giveaway partners connected to sign-ups


  • Literature drop-offs inside the club or venue
  • Leafleting and tabling outside the line on a busy night


1U.S. Small Business Association, Frequently Asked Questions, page 2.  http://www.sba.gov/sites/default/files/FAQ_Sept_2012.pdf 

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