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‘Shop Black’ campaign brings customers to Chatham businesses

Stephanie Hart, owner of Brown Sugar Bakery, 233 E. 75th St., said during the pandemic, it is more important than ever to support Black-owned businesses.

Stephanie Hart, owner of of Brown Sugar Bakery, inside her shop at 328 E. 75th St. in the Chatham neighborhood,
Stephanie Hart, owner of of Brown Sugar Bakery, in the Chatham neighborhood, said moving online, and getting her products served in restaurants and cafes, has helped her business grow.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Black Friday shopping on the 75th Street Boardwalk in Chatham was going to be an event, with an assortment of activities designed to lure shoppers who would spend their holiday cash in Black-owned businesses.

But after the recent surge in coronavirus cases, the festivities were canceled, though some shops stayed open, and customers continued to trickle in.

Stephanie Hart, owner of Brown Sugar Bakery, 233 E. 75th St., understood why the Greater Chatham Initiative canceled “Shop Black, Shop Local,” fearing it could become a super-spreader event. Still, she said, during the pandemic, it is more important than ever to support Black-owned businesses.

The city recently launched Black Shop Friday, with the help of community partners, to promote those businesses, listing 500 of them on a new website, blackshopfriday.com.

“I think supporting Black-owned businesses, especially if you live in a Black community, is so important. Why? Everyone that works here, is from here,” Hart said Friday afternoon. “We are providing jobs in this community.”

More important, Hart said, the money she earns gets put right back into the 75th Street Boardwalk’s local economy. She buys her employees meals at Lem’s BBQ across the street. Next door to Lem’s is the dry cleaner she uses, and next to her bakery is a shop where she buys clothes.

“I’m so thankful for the dollars that customers give me, and I always tell them ‘I’m taking your money and I am putting it back into the community,” Hart said.

Signs promoting shopping at Black owned businesses on Black Friday are hung in business windows in 75th St., in the Chatham neighborhood, Friday, Nov. 27, 2020.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Hart expected Black Friday to be somewhat “anticlimactic.” Most of her business came the day before Thanksgiving, with lines stretching down 75th Street. She expects Small Business Saturday to be even busier, given how many online orders she’s been getting.

Hart’s pivot to online, and getting her products served in restaurants and cafes, has helped her business grow. Some days, sales are up nearly 50% from their usual level.

Others on 75th Street rely not on the internet, but on their roots within the community.

William Roland owns Looks and Style, 330 E. 75th St., which he calls “Chicago’s favorite Caribbean store.” He isn’t online, but he said catering to a niche consumer base has kept him afloat.

“We are still grateful to be open with all this going on,” Roland said. “COVID kind of slowed us down a little; however, we are still doing better than a lot of other places.”

William Roland owner of of Looks and Style stands inside his Afrocentric clothing shop at 330 E. 75th St., in the Chatham neighborhood, Friday, Nov. 27, 2020.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Manny Ramos is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.