Lily Pabian speaking onstage at the Brookhaven Chamber of Commerce
Lily Pabian, executive director of We Love Buford Highway, speaks to the Brookhaven Chamber of Commerce.

Lily Pabian spoke to the Brookhaven Chamber of Commerce about the specific problems facing immigrant-owned businesses along Buford Highway on Sept. 15.

Pabian, who is the executive director of We Love Buford Highway, shared results from a survey the nonprofit conducted earlier this year. Following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization wanted to check in with businesses along the corridor and see what sort of support they needed. 

“We don’t even know how many businesses are still alive,” Pabian said of the decision to coordinate the survey following the effects of the pandemic. “Let’s recognize that there is a knowledge gap here for a corridor made up of immigrant communities that literally have built the sweat and brand equity of Buford Highway.” 

According to Pabian and the nonprofit’s partnership with Georgia Power’s Economic Development team, the corridor is home to nearly 1,000 immigrant-owned businesses as of 2021, representing largely Asian, Latino, and Black business owners. Those businesses are responsible for roughly $1.7 million in annual revenue and employ nearly 5,600 immigrants in the area. 

Pabian said engagement for the survey began in January. Two people visited 191 businesses across the corridor and 53 people responded to the survey. 

The survey’s findings are split into four categories: language, community, support, and challenges. According to the survey, 54% of business owners who responded do not speak English as a primary language, and 55% were Spanish speakers. 

Pabian also said that most of the business owners who responded said they do not feel supported by the greater business community on the Buford Highway corridor, and that most business owners are more likely to ask for help from another business owner of the same ethnicity. 

Pabian read a testimonial from a business owner who said that the only time they used to meet up with other business owners on a large scale was during events that We Love Buford Highway was able to throw pre-pandemic. 

“Without having some central events, everyone just keeps to themselves,” she said. 

The survey also found that most of the businesses surveyed are struggling in the current economic environment, facing issues with supply chain, high costs of rent and labor, and a lack of customers. 

Pabian said that We Love Buford Highway plans to continue to survey businesses in the corridor through the end of Hispanic Heritage Month, which began on Sept 15 and ends on Oct. 15. She also said the nonprofit wants to perform the survey on an annual basis. 

“When I hear businesses saying we’re not better off in revenues, well let’s figure out and drill down why,” Pabian said. 

Sammie Purcell is Associate Editor at Rough Draft Atlanta.