hen I have a choice – whether shopping for the holidays or other occasions – I frequent independent, and preferably black-owned, businesses.
I cringe when I read statistics about how much money earned by African-Americans is spent outside our communities. Only 3 percent of the nearly $1 trillion annual black spending power goes to black professionals, suppliers and firms, according to a Northwestern University study reported in the Urban League’s 2014 State of Black America. If black households with annual income of $75,000 or more increased spending with black professionals and firms to just 10 percent, we could create close to a million jobs, says the author of the Urban League report, Margarita “Maggie” Anderson, an advocate for shopping black.
My reasons for shopping small go beyond my commitment to putting my money where my mouth is. I simply enjoy the experience of shopping small. Walking into Eric’s I’ve Been Framed is like walking into a friend’s home. I chat with owner Eric Vaughn. I’m likely to tease his always-smiling co-worker Ian Wallace if he forgets to bring me a bottle of water, and I marvel at new creations from another employee/artist Marvalisa Coley. Chances are there’ll be other customers there, too. And Eric’s likely to be showcasing the work of pottery makers, photographers, authors and other artists, in addition to running his 25-year-old framing shop.
“Customer” seems too distant a word for the intimate feeling that develops when strangers become friends during discussions about the jazz music playing, the latest news or which frame works best with a particular piece of art.
Shopping small engenders connection. Plus, I’m likely to find inspiring, original pieces that speak to me and my tastes in style, fabrics and designs.
So this holiday shopping season, I look forward to doing what I usually do: Check out my dependable standbys and see what other new offerings are out there.
It usually takes me at least three outings that I divide geographically.
First, I start close to home with the revived Livernois strip. In addition to Eric’s I’ve Been Framed, there’s Detroit Fiber Works with an ethnically infused offering of clothing, home décor, jewelry and more from local and national artists; Art in Motion, where you can make your own pottery in addition to shop for others’ creations; and The Style Gallery, full on locally made, unique designs. And that’s just a few of the shops you’ll find on the strip that’s regaining some of its luster as the once-popular Avenue of Fashion.
I’ll devote another day that stretches through downtown, Midtown and Eastern Market. Places I’m sure to find something include Flo Boutique, which offers fashionable clothing and more; Tulani Rose, where I especially like the fragrant array of candles and lotions; Source Booksellers, which specializes in nonfiction works, and the following clothing stores: Offin River’s, The Black Dress, Savvy Chic and Detroit Vs Everybody.
While on this trip, I make a point to stop by the gift shop inside the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, which offers books, jewelry, clothing, art and more.
There are a few places that make going further east worthwhile, including collectives of various shops – each of which offers a variety of goods from clothing to artwork and home goods. First, there’s The Collective on East Jefferson where among several shops you’ll find ArtRages, where artist Judy Sledge’s fabulous and colorful nuno felted shawls and scarves add a touch of class to any outfit. Newer on my shopping-must list is MASH, named for its location at the intersection of Mack and Ashland. The name also fits its mash of businesses, pop-ups and vendors, including the specialty housewares-and-more shop Bohomodern, plus Good People Popcorn.
My third outing takes me to the ’burbs and other places in Detroit I may have missed, including Zarkpa’s Purses & Accessories in Detroit and the women’s clothing shops Definitely Different and the Designer Suite, both in Oak Park.
And although the Book Beat in Oak Park is not black-owned, it carries an amazing array of books by and about African-American people. The children’s collection alone is worth the stop. Furthermore, co-owner Colleen Kammer is knowledgeable about the books she carries and frequently invites local and national authors for readings.
Each of these places is likely to have special holiday shopping events, but don’t wait for a special date to add shopping there and other local shops to your to-do list.
As Karen Brown, owner of Savvy Chic in the Eastern Market says, independent shops need consistent shoppers, not just special-occasion buyers.
“Too often when people need something, they think they have to jump up and go to the mall or the big-box stores,” says Brown, who has owned Savvy Chic for 17 years. “It’s important to support local businesses all the time so they can stay in business.”
Vaughn, who has owned of Eric’s I’ve Been Framed for 25 years, agrees. “It’s extremely important that we shop black-owned businesses so our dollars re-circulate in our communities,” he says. “We employ people; we buy products and services from other black vendors. When you buy black, and buy local, it makes our community stronger.”
CASSANDRA SPRATLING IS A DETROIT-BASED FREELANCE WRITER AND VETERAN REPORTER.