When Paulette Still left a career in banking to open Posy Flower Design and Event Decor, she expected to sacrifice a steady and hefty paycheck for the chance to be her own boss. She didn't expect the number of people who would challenge her entrepreneurship based strictly on her race.
After the doors of her storefront opened in 2010, a doctor buying flowers for his wife informed her that she couldn't be the owner because Black people in Pittsburgh “owned wig stores and cleaning businesses.” When she switched to appointment-only hours, customers would book appointments based on the strength of her work featured online only to “turn on their heels” after seeing her in person.
“I had someone say, ‘You should have your picture on the website,'” she said. “I showed you my flowers and my work and you were excited but you met me and you weren't excited anymore.”
According to 2006 Census figures, Black-owned businesses nationally have average annual sales of $74,018, compared to $439,579 in sales for white-owned firms. Black-owned businesses received 1.7 percent of $23.09 billion in Small Business Administration loans in the 2013 fiscal year, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Nationally, efforts such as cash mobs — challenges designed to steer customers toward specific businesses — have popped up in an attempt to address the issue. That movement has touched Pittsburgh, as well, but here the effect has been to highlight the limited number of Black-owned businesses providing gasoline, fresh produce and other essentials.
The challenge, supporters say, often becomes finding places that support the African-American business community and one's own lifestyle.