By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer
The address may have changed over the years, but the commitment to providing the community with quality Black products remained the same. When you want to celebrate a graduation, Culture Collection is where you go for a kente cloth stole. When you’re decorating your new home with a touch of the Motherland, Culture Collection is where you go for mudcloth runners and sculptures handcrafted by African artisans.
After 31 years, the store in the Florin Square building in South Sacramento and owned by Betty and Lee Davis is closing. The Davises were set to shut its doors at the end of February, but with so much inventory, they’ve pushed back the planned closure a month.
Culture Collection is a community institution. Loyal customers will remember its earlier location at the Florin Mall. The store occupied two locations within the mall before it was torn down and replaced largely by a Walmart supercenter. Bigger chains such as Walmart, Betty Davis said, have signaled the end for smaller retailers like hers.
“Times have changed,” she said. “It used to be that you couldn’t find a Black greeting card or a Black angel to put on your Christmas tree.”
Culture Collection was where local Blacks got those things and more.
“So many of the big box stores have figured out that we have holidays and things that we like to celebrate. People go there now to buy their shirts for Juneteenth and all that,” Davis said.
Betty Davis is happy to see Black entrepreneurs finally getting their feet in the door with larger chains and having the opportunity for their brands to shine. One such artist and creative, Sfensa Shepsuaba, will have some of her Urban Gypsy jewelry designs sold by Nordstrom Rack starting this month. She and husband Uahsuf Shepsuaba also attend the African-centered Wo’se Community Church with the Davises.
Lee Davis is rarely seen without a black hat signifying his history as a proud military veteran and Betty Davis is the daughter of Ace Lawson, a pioneering Tuskegee Airmen pilot. “Miss Betty,” as she’s affectionately known to many, works with a local Tuskegee Airmen chapter to bring college scholarships to Black youth.
“The Davises have been instrumental in our community as leaders for social justice, entrepreneurial visionaries and awesome church members of Wo’se,” said Sfensa Shepsuaba, also known as Cleo Cartel.
“Their legacy business, Culture Collection, has been a resource for the brown community to find gifts and books that reflect our culture for decades. With excellent customer service Betty has given us years of great African content that has kept us informed and excited to celebrate us,” she continued.
The internet has also changed how people shop for previously hard-to-find cultural items. After closing its brick and mortar location, Culture Collection will become an online marketplace. Customers may still see Betty Davis as a vendor at Black crafter events, with her husband helping her do the heavy lifting of bringing in boxes of items for sale.
Closing the store, however, will allow the couple to enjoy their senior years more, while they’re still physically able. Lee Davis celebrated his 81st birthday on Feb. 11. The couple first started collecting Black collectibles in 1972 after a trip to Ghana. The two now have plans to visit Hawaii and travel to see their daughter and grandchildren.
It’s a rest well earned, said local poet and activist Staajabu. “Kudos to Betty and Lee Davis for the gift of the Culture Collection the past 30 years. We’ve been so fortunate to have their store full of Black books, art, clothing, jewelry, posters, instruments, carvings, souvenirs and Kwanzaa sets available for our families,” the fellow senior said.
Staajabu is half of the prolific mother-daughter poetry duo Straight Out Scribes. The pair performed and shared the history of Kwanzaa at the store this past December.
“I believe Straight Out Scribes has presented programs at every location they’ve had beginning at the Florin Mall,” Staajabu continued. “We were always thrilled to see our family and friends turn out in support. In turn, it was always great to attend a community event and see Betty and Lee either as vendors, participants or part of the audience. We love them and they have shown that they love us back.
“As the Davises retire we should be reminded that small Black businesses like theirs cannot survive without the love and support of the greater community. We can only imagine the determination, time, energy and resources they have invested in their business.”
For remaining Culture Collection hours of operation, call 916-427-7715 or visit culturecollection.com.