Chicago program adds social equity to holiday shopping list

The city’s Black Shop Friday effort will have more than 500 listings for shoppers eager to support Black-owned businesses.

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Christopher Brackenridge, left, and Milton Latrell, get a customer’s blazer ready Wednesday, Nov. 18, at Agriculture, a custom clothier in the Near North neighborhood. The retailer is among the Black-owned businesses the city is hoping to showcase during its Black Shop Friday effort.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Putting a social justice twist on Black Friday shopping promotions, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and community partners have started a campaign to encourage Chicagoans to support Black-owned businesses.

Called Black Shop Friday, the initiative will feature a website listing more than 500 businesses, with the Illinois Lottery donating digital advertising to get the word out. The Chicago Urban League and ad agency O’Keefe Reinhard & Paul are among those helping the effort.

“It’s not just about one day,” said Karen Freeman-Wilson, president and CEO of the Urban League, referring to the Friday after Thanksgiving that by tradition marks the start of holiday shopping. “This will continue beyond the holiday into 2021.”

She said that by encouraging consumers to support Black-owned businesses, she hopes to chip away at the disadvantages research shows they face, such as poor access to capital. Freeman-Wilson said Black-owned businesses, which are concentrated in services, were hit especially hard by shutdowns earlier in the pandemic and by recent outbreaks of looting.

Milton Latrell, owner of the custom clothier Agriculture at 67 W. Chicago Ave., said he hopes the program can generate foot traffic. “Businesses need an opportunity to offer their services and experiences. Since COVID-19, the only way to separate yourself as a business is to offer excellent customer service,” he said.

Latrell said his store was looted Aug. 10 and business is down significantly because buying habits have changed. “What Mayor Lightfoot is doing — this is so cool to be a part of this,” he said. “We want the chance to show everyone who walks through the door that they’re appreciated.”

The Urban League is completing new research on the financial state of Black-owned firms and hopes the Black Shop Friday program will register in the results, Freeman-Wilson said. She said she hopes to publish the findings in the first quarter of 2021.

The website, BlackShopFriday.com, is due to go live Tuesday with more than 500 businesses listed. Freeman-Wilson said Black-owned businesses that wish to be listed should email Jason Johnson, the league’s director of entrepreneurship, at jjohnson@chiul.org.

The O’Keefe firm created the Black Shop Friday campaign and enlisted ad agency Geletka+ for website design. Others volunteering work for the campaign include the Edelman public relations firm. It’s part of an effort run by Michael Fassnacht, an ad agency veteran tapped as the city’s $1-a-year chief marketing officer. He’s devising ways to encourage commerce in Chicago despite the pandemic.

“This inspiring partnership allows Chicagoans to discover the hundreds of Black-owned businesses in our city, driving the investment dollars that are needed now more than ever, and giving everyone a chance to make this new shopping holiday a huge success,” Lightfoot said in a statement.

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Milton Latrell, left, and Christopher Brackenridge sell men’s fashion accessories at their store, Agriculture, a custom clothier in the Near North neighborhood.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

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