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Three minority business owners talk shop, impact on the community. William Kalina, 717-505-5449/@BillKalina

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York City's population is pretty evenly split between white people, African Americans and Latinos.

But does that ratio hold for the businesses in the city? No one knows.

Downtown Inc is trying to change that by tracking census data on businesses owned by minorities, women and veterans, among other things. 

The organization received a $20,000 grant last year from the York County Community Foundation for the data-tracking project, according to Silas Chamberlin, York County Economic Alliance vice president and former Downtown Inc CEO.

More: Do York City's businesses reflect its people?

This sounds like a good idea. After all, more information is always better, and an area with as diverse a population as York City has needs to make sure all of its citizens have the opportunities they need.

The data could let Downtown Inc, York City and the York County Economic Alliance track changes in specific pockets of the business community and see if some segments or neighborhoods are doing well while others are neglected.

Some aspects are apparent to people in the know already.

Businesses that are black-owned are mainly in service, according to Ophelia Chambliss, vice president of York NAACP. The representation gap grows even larger in entertainment and retail, she added. 

That's very obvious in looking at the restaurants and shops in the core downtown areas. York is becoming known for its craft breweries, which seem to all be owned and run by white people. Many of the shops along North Beaver Street and West Philadelphia Street, the Central Market area, are owned and run by white women. 

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Out in the neighborhoods, there are more minority-owned and operated restaurants and shops, from Latino eateries such as Mi Caldero and Pacos Tacos to convenience stores, barbershops and salons. 

More: Minorities' concerns scuttle York City plan to outsource economic development

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There is always the problem that white-operated businesses in a majority-minority population could alienate portions of the community. Ronda Greer, owner of Make Me Over on South Beaver Street, said she rarely shops or goes out in downtown York; the existing businesses don't always appeal to her.

There is also the fear that white people, even with good intentions, will go into minority areas and make changes that the people who live there don't want. 

A plan last year to basically turn over the city's economic development to the YCEA came to a quick stop when members of the African American community spoke out against it during a contentious York City Council meeting.

"People are concerned that you're turning over the duties you were elected to do to another entity that isn't accountable for the people who elected you," York NAACP President Sandra Thompson said at that meeting. "This is minimizing black and brown voices and taking away their power. York City is the only real voice of black and brown people in the county as a whole."

So, while we applaud the collection of data and the harder look at the makeup of York City's businesses, we hope that Downtown Inc will tread carefully with that information and take into account the views of the people who live in the city as well as those who are doing business there.

While collecting the data is a very important first step, the next steps in deciding what to do with that data are at least as important. We hope that the business community and the minority communities can come together for a collective, constructive dialogue about making York City's economy work for its population.

 

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