CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – The future of some black-owned businesses across the Lowcountry is in jeopardy, and South Carolina State Representative Wendell Gilliard says gentrification and COVID-19 are to blame.

Gilliard says black-owned businesses are being pushed out of the Charleston area. This comes just days after Martha Lou’s Kitchen, a popular soul food destination, closed its doors for the final time after 37 years of operation.

“It definitely should be concerning, you know it is a trend because right now there are very few black businesses on the peninsula,” says Gilliard.

Gilliard believes leaders need to act before more businesses are forced to close their doors.

“We’ve been trying to teach and preach this for many years and we have solutions that we feel, if we can get cooperation from the right leadership, we can make things happen,” says Gilliard.

Safiya Grant, co-owner of Hannibal’s Kitchen, says black-owned businesses have an uphill battle in a growing city:

“A lot of people have moved because they have sold their property,” says Grant. “The key for the black community is ownership… you know, owning your property.”

Hopeful more businesses will find success, Grant believes leaders should form a coalition to showcase the remaining minority-owned businesses, but says owners must share some of the workload:

“It’s basically about education and letting them know the importance of continuing to run a black-owned business.”

Hannibal’s Kitchen and others says they are holding on to traditions, some lasting more than three generations. Grant believes the success of the restaurants relies on support:

“Stay strong and keep your faith up and just like I said, self-education, and we just need to support as a whole,” says Grant.

Gilliard believes restaurants like Martha Lou’s and Hannibal’s Kitchen should be welcomed across the Charleston community:

“We can have these types of restaurants to mix with other businesses and then everybody can share the wealth.”

He says increasing diversity among restaurants and businesses on the peninsula begins with education and all levels of government sitting down and having conversations on improving diversity.