Earlier this month, a group of Neighbor Up members interested in supporting small businesses in Cleveland went to Detroit to research how black-owned businesses thrive there. In two days, we visited 11 black-owned businesses and interviewed seven entrepreneurs to learn about their successes and struggles, and to get their advice about being entrepreneurs in the post-industrial Midwest. We were particularly interested in the similarities and differences in the challenges that Detroit and Cleveland face as sister cities.
We met Felicia of Flo Boutique, a creative and funky shop that has been in business for more than 10 years.
We talked to Robyn and ate at New Center Eatery, a delicious chicken and waffles restaurant that has thrived in the community for 13 years.
We met Sharon Pryor of Spiral Collective, an artist collective and incubator for black-owned businesses.
Janet, of Source Booksellers, was more than happy to talk about how her neighborhood has changed and how the independent bookstore has changed with it.
We also met Philip who runs The Baltimore Gallery as well as the Smile Brand. The youth he works with use the space to gather, speak and create.
Last, but not least, we visitied Sweet Potato Sensations, a staple in the community for more than 25 years. It is truly a family affair and thankfully they were generous enough to sit and talk with us about their vision for their business. The owners, Cassandra and Jeffery, started the business and are now handing it over to their daughters, Espy and Jennifer. This cooperative sells a number of other products through their storefront, from Drink Green, a green juice and smoothie company run by Ife, to Naturally Flyy Detroit, to locally-made peanut brittle.
- The co-op incubator idea from Spiral Collective.
- Inviting/welcoming atmosphere and attention to aesthetics (display and decor) in the shops.
- Customer service and premium on personal relationships/loyalty (greet customers especially by name, help with new parking, etc.).
- Collaboration and support of other black-owned businesses, interconnectedness and strong referral network.
- Retail specialization and focus (not just a bookstore but a non-fiction bookstore; helps to be cooperative and support other small businesses if you don’t offer everything you can refer people out).
- Multiple organizations focusing on supporting black entrepreneurs.
Go to the Business, Economics & Labor Department at the Cleveland Public Library to research the history/context & pull the numbers about how the landscape of black-owned businesses in Cleveland has changed in the last 50 years and what is the situation today? Paint an accurate picture. What’s contributed to the changes?
Schedule meetings with individuals and organizations supporting entrepreneurs in Cle. Determine who’s interested in innovating to better serve black entrepreneurs and business in Greater University Circle neighborhoods.
Interview six Cleveland entrepreneurs using the same questions and compare the answers.
Write a report/case study comparing Cleveland and Detroit complete with recommendations.
Together we will discover new ways to support/grow locally-owned and operated businesses in Hough, Central, Fairfax, Glenville, East Cleveland, and Buckeye! Interested in getting involved? Join us for our monthly Entrepreneurs Lunch.
~ By Indigo Bishop, Neighbor Up member