When your business turns 100, it’s a thing work celebrating. When your birthday coincides with the destruction of Black Wall Street, you find a way to make lemonade out of lemons. And that’s exactly what Lauren Stovall of Hot Sam’s decided to do in 2019 when she found herself organizing a tribute to Black Wall Street.
In 2021 fashion, BLAC® publisher Billy Strawter, Jr Zoomed with the Legacy Business Lead for the 100 year old black-owned business to discuss Hot Sam’s centennial celebration and their tribute to Black Wall Street.
This article was edited for length and clarity. For the entire interview, listen to the BLAC® Podcast
BLAC: It’s difficult for a business to last a hundred years, what do you believe is the staying power behind Hot Sam’s?
Lauren: I was just speaking with someone about this recently. I can’t say it’s just our fashion. Yes, we have unique fashion. Our fashion is very distinct to that Detroit style; that Detroit man of old and new. It’s the people behind the store. People have connected with our story. It’s that experience that makes up Hot Sam’s. When you come in, it’s not your average retail shopping experience. It’s very much like Cheers, where everybody knows your name or like a barbershop feeling where you talk about politics, sports, religion. You can expect a leisurely, candid conversation while people are getting tailored up or shopping throughout the store. I think it’s that experience. It’s the people from the ownership on down. Those are really two distinct key reasons as to why we’re still here a century later.
BLAC: With the demographic shift downtown, how has the business adjusted to changing tastes?
Lauren: We have this clientele that we like to say OG, we say OG as original gentlemen, that’s our twist on it. The ment that wore suits, top hats, who really liked to get dressed up from head to toe. Who took pride and pleasure in that whole suit ensemble. That customer has been our base, that has been our bread and butter, but as we look throughout downtown in the Financial District, which is where we are at, we see a lot of changes and businesses coming down. So, that brings in a new potential clientele of a younger modern man.
We’ve had to change up our store. When you’re talking about our fashion, for a long time, we didn’t even carry jeans in the store. We were primarily a suit kind of shop. Now, we’re getting more casual, especially coming out of the pandemic. Nobody is really dressing up. We’re at home where we have lounge wear, leisure type of clothing. We’ve had to adapt to how the store is designed. We change up the store layout every season to give it a fresh look and appeal.
We’ve had to adapt. We went 99 years without having an e-commerce store. We launched it in the midst of the pandemic and it’s allowed us to have a broader reach.
BLAC: How long has your family been involved in the business?
Lauren: My father, Tony Stovall, is the co-owner and CEO and his partner Cliff Green is the co-owner and CFO. They were both salesmen at Hot Sam’s in the 70’s, around 1974. They had the opportunity to buy the store from the Friedman family in 1994.
BLAC: The century mark for Hot Sam’s coincides with another century milestone, Black Wall Street. Talk about the event you have coming up. Hot Sam’s Centennial Celebration and Black Wall Street.
In 2019, I had the opportunity to work within a ministry at my church named Empowerment Church. We hosted a Black Wall Street market. It was during the planning sessions that I noticed the correlation for the year 1921, the destruction of Black Wall Street. So, I’m like 1921, well, that’s when Hot Sam’s was established, that was in 2019. It was interesting to me that while a community of black business and residential areas were being demolished, that simultaneously in Detroit, although not yet black-owned at the time, was being established. So while one is rising up, another is being destroyed. That you have to celebrate the one and acknowledge the other. That as a cornerstone business we had a responsibility to black business. With everything that we have endured, with what happened in Tulsa, OK that black businesses are still able to do business. I point to this event of showcasing the excellence and the success of black businesses.
BLAC: What can people expect who will be attending?
They can expect a fun, festive time for the family, for the community. The event is free.
You’re going to see over 25 black owned businesses from Metro Detroit. You’ll have the opportunity to shop and support them from 12 pm until 5 pm. There will be live music, food trucks. And, we’ll celebrate later with an entertainment extravaganza with live music and a fashion show from 5 pm to 7 pm. It’s one day, two events.