CINCINNATI — Although about half the people who live in Over-the-Rhine are black, only 8% of the booming neighborhood’s businesses are minority-owned.
The OTR Chamber of Commerce hopes to adjust that balance in 2020 by awarding a $20,000 grant to minority-owned businesses willing to make the area their home. Their goal: To ensure every entrepreneur with the will to work and commit to their community has a shot at becoming part of OTR’s recent prosperity.
“The business ownership, that demographic really needs to represent the demographic of Over-The-Rhine neighborhood,” OTR Chamber of Commerce director Kelly Adamson said Wednesday night.
She hadn’t realized the scale of the disparity, she added, until the chamber began studying it.
Means Cameron had a better sense of the gap because he’s lived in it. His new cafe, Black Coffee, sits on Elm Street beside his clothing store, Black Owned. Opening both in the area where he grew up was important to him, he said.
“We want to be owners in the community, not just here visiting,” he said of his fellow minority entrepreneurs. “As we go through Downtown, we often feel like we don't see enough of us. We feel like we're on an island by ourselves sometimes."
He would be excited to see other minority-owned businesses become his neighbors, he said. As a small-business owner himself, he knows how much a $20,000 cash infusion could buy: More staff, more marketing, more inventory.
“I think the more black businesses we have in the area, the more beautiful the city,” he said.
Eric Kearney, CEO of the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky African-American Chamber, said he thinks the grant will help keep OTR grounded in its history.
“That’ll make Over-The-Rhine stronger,” he said. “It’ll make Cincinnati stronger, and it’s just a really great sign that we, as a region, value and support small businesses.”
Entrepreneurs who submit their applications must be willing to sign a three-year lease for space in the neighborhood, be open at least 50 hours each week and join the Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce. A more detailed list of application requirements is available online.
The chamber will announce the winner or winners in January. To apply for the grant, click here.