Black-owned businesses and Black-run organizations are getting a bit of spotlight thanks to Charleston business advocacy group Lowcountry Local First’s (LLF) Buy Black + Love Local campaign, which launched beginning this month in celebration of Black History Month.
LLF’s online local-indie business directory helps consumers find Black-owned businesses in their area, and that’s not the only resource mentioned in the campaign announcement. The Racial Equity Institute, Avery Research Center, NAACP, Black Lives Matter and more were highlighted by LLF, encouraging community members to support these organizations working to make shifts in racial equity, inclusion and justice.
“If the playing field isn’t level for all aspiring entrepreneurs and business leaders to be able to succeed, to start their dream business, to support their family and community, to access funding sources — then the systems are broken,” LLF communications director Jordan Amaker said. “Communities fail. Democracy fails. We’re working every day, not just in February, to flip the power structures and ensure that our community’s existing and future Black and brown business owners have the social, knowledge and financial capital needed to transform their lives.”
And when it comes to Black-owned businesses, LLF’s team has no shortage of partners. With a list of business owners working alongside LLF in its community business academy, the group is offering a helping hand to up-and-coming entrepreneurs and local staples alike.
A fresh take on a traditional concept
Tanya Hearn started crafting charcuterie boards for friends and family as a hobby during the pandemic. Food-related hobbies weren’t uncommon during the hard times, with many taking up bread-baking or gradening, but Hearn took hers a step further, creating a stable business, Charcuterie Happy Board, in October 2021.
“October 14 — I’ll never forget that day,” Hearn said. “I got my business license right before Thanksgiving and started getting orders in. I started looking into commercial kitchen spaces right away.”
Amaker said Hearn represents the driving spirit behind LLF’s Community Business Academy. The academy was started in light of the gap in income and wealth between minority and white households in Charleston and white households, according to former LLF director Jamee Haley.
But getting started without a lot of these connections and a network was difficult, Hearn said, especially since it was during the height of the pandemic’s delta surge.
“I was very nervous. I didn’t know whether it was going to take off the way that it did,” Hearn said. But despite the uncertainty and concerns, Hearn hit the ground running, selling out of stock on Valentine’s Day.
Now working with LLF, Hearn says she has made plenty of new connections with other local businesses.
“I love supporting locally owned businesses,” she said. “I hope in the future I will be able to offer products that are local, even if it’s just dessert or somebody’s cheese or wine. That support is so important.”
A seat at the table
A pair of sister business networking organizations — BLK Charleston, the for-profit social network, and Black Charleston Professionals (BCP), a nonprofit — seek to provide minority entrepreneurs with the recognition they felt was lacking in day-to-day business in the Lowcountry.
“There wasn’t really much on the social platform highlighting professionals here in Charleston, Black owned businesses to be exact.” said BLK Charleston founder Miranda Grimmage. “BCP … allows us to really make a difference in the community, bring awareness and do the work.”
Grimmage said being raised in Black barbershops was vital to her entrepreneurial spirit as she grew older, eventually leading her to start her own business. And while BCP membership director LaShea DuBois didn’t have a barber shop upbringing, she said the Black community has always been built on entrepreneurship. But both noticed the same gap in support for minority-owned and up-and-coming businesses.
“We are in Charleston, the destination for weddings, the destination for tourism, but what we see is that most of the people who get highlighted are either in downtown Charleston or out in Mount Pleasant,” DuBois said. “When we get into these gems out in Summerville, out in Goose Creek, we don’t get that same type of advertising or patronage. We want to be the plug for those businesses — to bring the tourists there just as much as to the peninsula.”
“We all get gratification out of that,” Grimmage added. “We see the disparity as Black business owners ourselves, so anything we can do to create an easier path
— that’s our goal.”
As leaders for a business network themselves, the partnership with LLF fell into place naturally.
“It just came from a simple conversation,” DuBois said. These types of partnerships — those that come easily — are what DuBois and Grimmagee said they hope to offer to their members.
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