Last time we talked I was pretty upset because I couldn't find one Black-owned general merchandise store or discount outlet, even though there were so many of them in Black America, and these stores were so ridiculously successful. I also told you I would keep looking and hoping. I told you I could not accept that although we've been here for 400 years and we have significant buying power in this $30 billion industry, we have not been able to acquire and organize the resources and capabilities to open and sustain a general merchandise store chain, or at least heavily represent the franchisees in the industry.
Well, I am delighted to report I found my new general merchandise outlet. It's wonderful too. Quaint, clean, and chock full of cool stuff that I need for my family. It is owned by a friendly, hard-working couple who live in an underserved Black community, and whose personal and business expenditures as well as their business revenues contribute to the local economy there. I bought some household goods, cleaning supplies, toiletries, treats for the girls, plastic cups and plates for the girls, dry and canned goods, batteries, diapers, and some extra virgin olive oil (you all know how expensive good olive oil is... well not for me!)
Great. Another Ebony Experiment milestone. I felt good about that. But then I completely broke down. I was simply overcome by joy and sadness, pride and humility, triumph and helplessness... (you know how sometimes you can get all those emotions going at the same time?) Would you want to know why, after a routine shopping trip, I flooded my sweater with tears? Good. Because that's the subject of today's post.
As I was being helped with my bags and joking with the merchant over how I bought more sweets for myself than my daughters, the tears welled because I saw that Michelle and David, the owners of God First, God Last, God Always Dollar and Up General Store (http://www.findmechicago.com/shopping-retail/god-first-god-last-god-always-dollar-and-up-general/) had posted pictures of my family on the windows and doors of their business. They had also printed copies of our website to distribute as flyers they were placing in every bag. I did not ask them to do that. They did not know whether I was ever coming back after my first brief visit the week before. So I asked her why she did this. She said, "I want the community to know we are behind you. You came out here for us. You are here because of us. And we are here because of you." Hence, the puffy eyes.
So we started chatting about our families. Turns out both our husbands were members of 100 Black Men of Chicago, and we knew a lot of the same people. She said she could introduce me to other merchants in the area. She mentioned a couple of restaurants, a health and wellness store, art galleries, etc. I was so amazed. All the entrepreneurs knew and supported one another. They all existed along the same half-mile corridor.
Jackpot! I had no idea this Black business haven existed! But apparently, they all knew about me because Michelle and David had told them about The Ebony Experiment. More tears.
When was the last time you cried after shopping at Family Dollar or Kmart? When was the last time the owners of those stores took the time to get to know your family and talk to you about the issues that matter to you and your community? When was the last time they hugged you after you made your purchase, and threw in a bag of Vitamin C drops because you mentioned you needed some Vitamin C for your husband but they did not have any?
Before I close, let me talk a little bit about the pride. I don't want anyone assuming the proud sentiment came from my being proud of myself because I did the right thing and I contributed to an underserved community's economic development. The pride came from my observing how fantastic the store is. It is the same pride I feel with my new grocer (Farmers Best, http://www.farmersbestchicago.com/) everytime I go in there and see the miles and miles of fresh produce, breads, meats and fish... and at such competitive prices!
I'm sorry. I digressed. This is just such a thrill, such a revolutionary period in my life... It's tough to contain the joy and stay coherent!
I feel pride because these entrepreneurs stepped out on faith... utterly undaunted by the failure rates for Black businesses and the ongoing, insurmountable threat of the big discount chains... completely unphased by the fact that the people who can support them the most, simply won't... absolutely undeterred by the virtual certainty that they'll never get rich doing this, even though other folk with half their drive and smarts, who work half as hard will be able to pass millions on to their great-grandchildren... driven solely by the simple truth that if they don't try, nothing will change and our communities will never reflect the pride, power and perserverence of the people who live there. That's where the pride came from. Not the pictures of me in the window.
They have a wonderful general merchandise store - my new store. But it's only one store. And it's a marvellous corridor of small businesses - my new business corridor. But it's a tiny business corridor.
We will change that. We WILL change that.