As a Black business owner, James Hackley says support from the Black community was critical to his continued operation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I feel a sense of gratitude for that, that folks would support me because the hue of my skin or my ethnicity. That gives me a humble feeling,” he said. “A lot of folks want to do something local. That whole adage is ‘think globally and act locally,’ so folks will come through and as a matter of fact, that’s how we were able to survive the pandemic.”
Hackley owns Bespoke Not Broke, a vintage and upscale resale store in Takoma Park, at 7042 Carroll Ave. The business opened four years ago, out of Polly Sue’s Vintage Shop before it closed in 2018. Hackley then decided to open its own location.
“There are some folks that have a pretty critical argument that integration kind of killed Black entrepreneurs and things like Black Wall Street that are out there,” he said. “So, we must take care of our own, both figuratively and literally as well. Nowhere else better to start than that ‘Black dollar,’ where we look to invest that dollar.”
Black business owners and data indicate that Black consumers are intentional about supporting Black-owned businesses. Montgomery County economic development officials and data reflect that support for such enterprises is important not only to the growth of those businesses but to the area’s economic position.
According to a February Pew Research article, 58% of Black adults say supporting Black businesses, or “buying Black,” is an extremely or very effective method for progressing Black people toward equality in the country.
According to the Montgomery County Economic Development Corp.’s website, 45% of businesses in the county are minority-owned and four of the 10 most culturally diverse cities in the U.S. are in the county.
“Black-owned businesses — which range from life sciences and technology to nonprofit and professional services to restaurants and retail establishments — are core to the strength of Montgomery County and its diverse economy,” said Bill Tompkins, president and CEO of Montgomery County Economic Development Corp., in an email. “Furthermore, supporting our Black-owned businesses helps to close the racial wealth gap that is so prevalent in our society.”
According to Tompkins, the county continues to work to increase its number of minority-owned businesses.
“We estimate that there are approximately 7,000 Black-owned businesses that employ more than 50,000 people in the state of Maryland, with Montgomery County having a healthy share of those businesses,” he said. “Their support builds relationships while creating jobs and opportunity. Last year alone, the Montgomery County procurement office spent $212 million with minority-owned businesses, demonstrating its commitment to creating opportunities for entrepreneurs, including Black-owned businesses, to grow and add tremendous value to our economy.”
Shaun Taylor, owner of Maryland-based Black Viking Brewing, said the influence of Black spending power is important to help Black-owned businesses expand.
“We have to make sure that we are doing things like bringing physical agility to these Black-owned businesses so they can scale to increase their reach and … be accessible to larger audiences,” he said.
Black Viking Brewing started in 2021, and although the business doesn’t have a taproom, its products are distributed by various retailers in the region, with many in Montgomery County.
When Black Viking Brewing launched, Taylor said people drove from Philadelphia, Delaware and southeast Washington, D.C., just to buy cases of his beer and support his business. He recalls a customer telling him at the launch, “I’m not even a huge beer drinker. I just saw you on Fox 5. I saw your Instagram. I saw your Facebook. I just wanted to support. We are so proud of you, brother. Keep doing what you’re doing.”
In 2020, there were over 140,000 U.S. firms with majority Black ownership, but even with this growth, businesses owned by Black people account for only 3% of all U.S. firms, according to the Pew Research article. Black people account for 13.6% of the U.S. population.
According to Hackley, continued growth of Black businesses is complicated as entrepreneurship isn’t commonly taught with the community.
“In [the Black community], you don’t really hear about entrepreneurship much unless your parents or someone close to your family was an entrepreneur,” he said. “We’re kind of indoctrinated to go get a so-called government job; you work that job, and you retire; you get your gold watch and that’s it. Entrepreneurship is a viable option out there for folks who want something more, and it’s a high-risk, high-reward type of thing.”
Taylor cites data showing less than 1% of brewing companies in the U.S. are Black-owned, none of which distribute nationally.
“We have really been locked out of this industry for far too long,” he said. “If you go back into the foundations of this country, brewing was seen as a domestic chore, so just like cooking or sewing or washing clothes. So, a good number of beer brewers in the 17th and 18th century in the United States were Black women.”
Taylor said it’s important for members of the Black community to use their money to uplift Black-owned businesses and help them push into spaces they have been blocked from, like brewing in his case.
“If Black people don’t have access to Black-owned products, they can’t support those Black-owned products,” he said. “But we have to sometimes dig a little deeper and say, well, we can’t expect Black people to support things that they don’t have access to.”