A new study in the Annals of the American Association of Geographers looked at the impact of COVID-19 on Black-owned businesses, specifically, the economic impact on Black-owned restaurants. The researchers found statistically significant differences in the rate of customer visits between Black-owned and “ownership-unreported” restaurants. New Orleans and Detroit had the greatest disparities in relative decline of visits comparing the two categories of business ownership, and New York City showed the least.
University of Washington researchers used geospatial big data to conduct a longitudinal quantitative analysis of Black-owned businesses in 20 American cities. They aimed to assess differences among various geographic locations and to ensure spatial representativeness. The primary measurement they looked at was relative declines in visits. Data included items such as Yelp reviews or geo-tagged tweets. Yelp restaurant reviews that included the “Black-owned” label with associated businesses or the identifier mentioned in reviews were helpful in identifying Black-owned businesses, because there is no systematic way to verify Black-owned business status. Yelp listings were cross-referenced with records collected by SafeGraph (a company that collects visitation patterns through roughly 45 million mobile devices).
Many Black-owned businesses add a label to their Yelp page to help prospective customers visit their business. When the Yelp label function to classify Black-owned businesses was initially created, visits to black-owned businesses increased. Study author and Professor of Geosciences Dr. Xiao Huang believes proper use of GIS can be used to amplify the experiences and needs of Black business owners. Huang explained, “The voices of the minority, the vulnerable and others who have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic need to be heard. As a scholar, I will continue collecting evidence that helps reveal the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on them.” The researchers recommend that geographic information systems (GIS) development should be informed by human experience and especially by perspectives of minorities in order to achieve economic equity.
The study’s finding highlights the need for pursuing place-based relief strategies for Black-owned restaurants. Big tech companies can improve tech solutions that promote Black-owned business campaigns.