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‘Tis the season to buy Black during the holidays

Jamyra Perry, The Philadelphia Tribune, November 28, 2020

For Kirra Clark, a busy mom of six and owner of Kirra’s Cakes and Beyond, the decision to join one of Philadelphia’s many pop-up markets was a calculated one. She’s used to steady sales but is always looking for new ways to grow her business.

“I live in Northern Liberties and I’m active on the neighborhood Facebook page. I’ve managed to get a lot of business that way, just from my neighbors. There are probably more neighbors that I don’t know so I thought, why not. Let’s get to know some more people,” she said.

The baking entrepreneur will be among the almost 20 vendors at the Northern Liberties Holiday Pop-ups taking place the weekend after Thanksgiving and continuing Dec. 3-6. About a third of the vendors are minority-owned businesses like Kirra’s and that’s not a coincidence.

The Northern Liberties Business Improvement District, which runs the pop-up, wanted diversity and made it part of their mission to recruit Black businesses that could eventually be a part of the district, according to a press release. They wanted diversity not only in the offerings from vendors but in the vendors themselves. Clark said that at the end of the day exposure is great but you have to rely on your product.

“There aren’t that many Black folks up here. But if you make good stuff people will buy it. It’s just about credibility,” she said.

Christmas Village newcomer and Blacktivate collective member Melissa Lamarre agreed with Clark and said it was one of the things that drew her to the Love Park marketplace.

“One of the reasons why these types of events are so effective at launching businesses is because people are out there to shop. If you’re offering them something that they want and need, you’ll be able to make money. It’s not like you’re putting an extra effort into getting somebody to order on your website, they’re right there. They have money on them and they’re willing to shop. You just have to make it appealing enough to draw them in,” she said.

Blactivate is a collective of African-American small business owners offering natural skincare, haircare brands, motivational apparel, handmade jewelry and home goods. This is their first year as a booth in Christmas Village and Lamarre said they have high hopes.

“By being in Christmas Village, we’re able to provide an opportunity for sales that a lot of businesses have missed out on, especially this year with a lot of events being canceled. People who are used to going to the vendor markets have had a hard time making up that loss of income or that revenue stream. This gives us a chance at having access to a different customer base because of the variety of people that come through the Christmas Village,” the entrepreneur said.

Really Reel Ginger owner Iliyaas Muhammad is no stranger to pop-up markets. He had a booth in Christmas Village last year but moved to the Made in Philadelphia Holiday Market this year. He said increasing his customer base long after the holidays are over is what he hopes to get out of doing these pop-up markets.

“I’ve been in Reading Terminal Market since 2017. I joined the Made in Philadelphia market not only because of the short-term benefit of being a part of the market and selling our products but also the long-term ramifications of participating in an event like this. My hope was to make sure I built a client base that could identify with us at the terminal even after the event. For me, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to participate in the event if you don’t have a way to resell the product to the same patrons after it’s done,” he said.

The ginger food and beverage entrepreneur said he’s learned a lot from his time at pop-up markets.

“By being a part of outdoor markets like this one or farmer markets, you can really get the pulse of what’s going on in the marketplace. It’s important to have a face in the marketplace, that’s key. It’s a great way to stay connected with the people that frequent your shop, along with your online presence,” Muhammad said.

He has some advice for fellow Black business owners who may be reluctant to jump into a space that has not been welcoming to people of color.

“Everyone’s been very supportive when it comes to patronizing our business here at this holiday market and also last year at Christmas Village,” Muhammad said. “So I encourage anyone, especially people of color, to try to come out. Don’t be frightened, be assertive and be encouraged to go ahead and pursue your dreams. Do it to your fullest.”

jperry@phillytrib.com (215) 893-5749