Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer
Buy Black and buy often. Local business champion Chris Lodgson is encouraging the community to support area businesses even after items on their holiday lists have long been checked off.
Lodgson is the founder of SacBlackBiz.biz, which works to help promote and sustain businesses. He saw local entrepreneurs recently taking advantage of Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, as the “busiest shopping day of the year” to increase sales and raise awareness of their products, services and brands. Lodgson also saw increased activity during Small Business Saturday, the day after Black Friday – which some, Lodgson among them, call Black Saturday – and Cyber Monday as well.
“From what I can tell, there was a lot of great business activity going on – a lot of people making sales, a lot of great, great deals, a lot of great energy, a lot of great traffic,” Lodgson said.
“I think businesses are getting the message that it’s not just one day, it’s actually the whole week really.”
The pandemic changed the way many shop and while things have opened up and folks still are heading to malls this holiday season, online commerce has increased. Businesses of color, Lodgson said, are taking advantage of both in-person and internet sales. There are many Black-owned businesses to patronize.
Locally, he said, those shopping on a budget can find new-to-you threads at Hidden Gems, inside Florin Square. Love the Dollar Store but want to keep money circulating in the Black community? Florin Square is also home to Crowder’s Variety store, Lodgson offered. If there’s a bibliophile on your Christmas or Kwanzaa lists, why not check out BookQueens.com, a Sacramento-based online bookstore? Lodgson wants to know. Those looking to spice things up can support Beale Street Hot Sauce, an Elk Grove-based brand, he said.
“We have just as good quality products as anybody,” Lodgson added. “I know for a fact that when we are able to compete, we win.”
Lodgson also reminded people that to survive, Black business owners need the community’s support beyond the holidays. Sojourner Truth African Heritage Museum founder Shonna McDaniels agreed.
“For Black business owners and vendors, it needs to be Black Friday 365 days a year,” McDaniels said.
Her museum is located inside the Florin Square building in South Sacramento where African Market Place has taken place every first and third Saturday for the last six years. Vendors, including McDaniels, count on money they make during the holiday season to sustain them in the following months.
“That high level of energy of marketing and strategizing needs to occur 365 days a year,” she said.
African Market Place beckoned to Black shoppers on Black Friday and vendors will continue to offer Black-centered products throughout the year.
Across town, Arden Fair hosted an event on Black Friday on its first floor that gave shoppers a chance to find gifts from vendors of color. The vendor fair and other events like it often are spearheaded by entrepreneur Ayesha Ransom, who elevated the pop-up concept into a full-fledged store at Arden Fair, with others following suit.
“I first started seeing the change during the pandemic, during the COVID-19 quarantine, like the second half of 2020 and 2021,” Lodgson said of the mall. “There seemed to be more of an openness and a willingness to be intentional about bringing in Black-owned businesses.”
Big name stores and sites are now offering things like Black Santa wrapping paper, Christmas cards that feature Black families or African American art and Black dolls. There are pluses and minuses to that. There’s something to be said about inclusion, but these are products people used to get exclusively from Black vendors. Lodgson encouraged people to continue doing that.
“Black people are Black businesses’ best customers,” he said. “We shop with our people more than anybody else.
“Part of our job is to make sure that people know that they can get anything and everything that they could get from a Target at their local Black-owned business. … We are encouraging folks to think Black first and buy Black first.”
Some caution against exploitation. Large box store Walmart was called out earlier this year for selling Juneteenth ice cream. Bath and Body Works incurred backlash in February with its Black History Month candle line. Target, however, did score points selling a line of clothing and home products designed by Black vegan influencer Tabitha Brown.
“There is a line and there is a way to be responsible about it,” Lodgson said.
SacBlackBiz.biz now boasts more than 10,000 members. That growth, Lodgson said, is proof Black entrepreneurs are taking care of business and that the work he does is needed.
“We’ve been very intentional about building relationships offline,” he said. “That means we’re at community events. We’re going to businesses, we’re talking to business owners.”
Earlier this year, Sac Black Biz partnered with the Midtown Business Association to host a series of Black History Month markets.
“We brought between 20 and 30 mostly Black-owned vendors out every single Wednesday of the month,” Lodgson shared. “You can walk through every single Saturday and it’s so many people. We knew that there was money out there and we wanted to make sure that Black businesses had a part of that money.”