Little Jamaica receives $1M federal grant to help it sustain Black-owned businesses

Business homeowners are hoping {that a} $1 million federal grant aimed toward revitalizing Little Jamaica will help to enhance the profile of the historic group in Toronto.

The homeowners stated on Sunday the cash is coming at an excellent time as a result of Black-owned businesses alongside Eglinton Avenue West, largely situated between Marlee Avenue and Oakwood Avenue, have been struggling since 2011 to keep open.

First, businesses within the space had to take care of Eglinton Crosstown building. More lately, they’d to cope with COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. More than 50 Black-owned businesses in Little Jamaica have closed their doorways prior to now 5 years.

“It was a challenge, but I endured. I held on,” stated Sheryl Bryan Phillips, proprietor of Judy’s Island Grill, a small restaurant that serves genuine Caribbean delicacies at 1720 Eglinton Ave. W.

“2018, I think, was our best year. After that, the pandemic hit. Oh, I’m telling you, it was going down. Things have gotten better since we reopened.”

The restaurant, in operation for almost seven years, payments itself as “Bringing the Taste of the Island to you.” On its partitions, there are images of Bob Marley, the Jamaican reggae singer, songwriter and musician who died in 1981, and retired Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt.

Bryan Phillips stated she is beginning to see acquainted faces once more, together with extra foot site visitors, however what the group wants is prospects from outdoors the realm.

“One time my sister, who helped me to get this business, said: ‘Why don’t you file for bankruptcy? I don’t know why you are still going.’ But something within me was pushing me to continue. This is what I’m destined for. This is my passion,” Bryan Phillips stated.

Grant will fund packages 

The grant, from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario, has enabled the opening of a satellite tv for pc workplace of the Black Business and Professional Association (BBPA), a non-profit charitable group shaped in 1983 that serves to deal with fairness and alternative for the Black group in enterprise, employment, training and financial growth. 

Although the grant was introduced earlier this 12 months, the BBPA workplace opened final week at 1621 Eglinton Ave. W. 

Frances Delsol, govt director of the BBPA, stated the grant will likely be used to fund packages for Black-owned and operated businesses in Little Jamaica. It will let Toronto know that Little Jamaica is open for enterprise, she stated.

Frances Delsol, govt director of Black Business and Professional Association, says: ‘It’s vital that not simply Toronto, however Canada understands the historic significance of this space. It was constructed on the backs of people that got here from Jamaica and the remainder of the Caribbean.’ (Robert Krbavac/CBC)

She stated the LRT building and pandemic have taken a severe toll on businesses within the space. Earlier this 12 months, the BBPA handed out $150,000 in grants to 33 Little Jamaica businesses to help them pay hire or utilities. The hope is that LRT building will quickly be over, she stated.

The space was dwelling to many individuals of Jamaican and Caribbean descent who moved to Toronto within the Nineteen Fifties and Nineteen Sixties. It used to be dwelling to a whole bunch of Black-owned businesses. Five years in the past, it had greater than 110 Black-owned businesses. Today, there are about 45 within the space.

“We have seen a degradation of the community in terms of the number of businesses there. And we are here to solidify those who are remaining and to try to bring others in so the culture of what Little Jamaica is continues to remain,” Delsol stated.

Area has ‘historic significance,’ group chief says

Delsol stated the group is appreciative of the federal cash.

“We are going to be offering programs that will help them not only thrive but have sustainability for the long term,” she stated.

“This community has a culture to it. If we can’t sustain the businesses who are here, then we are going to have an infusion of new businesses. We are going to have a different type of culture in this area.

“It’s vital that not simply Toronto, however Canada understands the historic significance of this space. It was constructed on the backs of people that got here from Jamaica and the remainder of the Caribbean. If we do not encourage sustainability of this tradition, it goes to die. And it is part of us that we can not enable to die. We have to help sustain it.”

Stuart Brown, owner of Reggae Cafe, a restaurant that specializes in Jamaican seafood and an event space at 1653 Eglinton Ave. W., stands in front of his business. (Robert Krbavac/CBC)

Stuart Brown, owner of Reggae Cafe, a restaurant that specializes in Jamaican seafood and a large event space at 1653 Eglinton Ave. W., said he believes the $1 million grant should be used mainly to help Little Jamaica businesses get back to full operation. It should also be used on marketing, incentives for customers to come back and efforts to clean up the area, he said.

The business has been in operation since 2013 and Brown took it over from his dad in 2018. His second location in Sarnia, Ont., currently sustains the Toronto one.

Brown said he has lost revenue during the LRT construction period because customers have found it difficult to find parking. He said the grant will help businesses in the area, but LRT construction needs to end to enable customers to access the area.

He agrees that it’s important to sustain the area.

“It’s cultural. Everybody comes to Eglinton for one thing. I used to come for my hair lower. This is the place my mother introduced me on a regular basis. Actually, that is the place she moved when she got here from Jamaica. This is the place my grandmother and grandfather got here once they moved from Jamaica. It’s heritage right here,” he said.

“Lots of people who’re Jamaican come to this particular space, Little Jamaica, simply because they will entry the stuff that is on their island.”

As for the BBPA, it opened its Eglinton West office to allow local business owners to share ideas with each other. It has also hired a marketing agency, Konvo Media, to help implement its programs.

The BBPA plans to run the following programs:

  • Shop Talk Thursdays: the program will be hosted by a different business each week on such topics as technology, enhancing the customer experience, finance and money management.
  • Web and e-commerce presence: the organization will launch a Little Jamaica App and develop digital media and online marketing for local businesses.
  • Business programs: the organization will offer services to help with tax filing, business plan development, financial reviews, payroll, business registration and marketing strategies.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.



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