The story behind a business is as important to Adele Nance as whatever product it's promoting.
The Milwaukee resident asks entrepreneurs about why they started their company and what their mission statement is. Only if she likes what she hears is she inclined to buy. And Nance, 68, has found that local markets, like the one held Saturday at the Marcus Performing Arts Center, include businesses owners who have good stories.
Nance is a regular on the pop-up market circuit. She shuns Amazon and other online retailers, worried about her financial information being compromised online and her presents not arriving in time for the holidays.
Most other shoppers at Saturday's Blackity Black Holiday Market aren't as stringent about their daily shopping habits as Nance. But when it comes to gift-giving, they, too, wanted to support the city's Black-owned businesses.
"I love getting that experience and getting that culture," Nance said of shopping locally. "It's going back into the community. That's amazing."
Vendors selling a variety of holiday gifts
The Blackity Black Holiday Market featured 38 vendors selling everything from body butter to bedazzled T-shirts to candles to kombucha. The event was put on by MKE Black, a nonprofit organization that promotes Black businesses and offers a mobile app directory listing 800 of them, and the urban alternative Black radio station, HYFIN.
Solana Patterson-Ramos, the director of community outreach at MKE Black, said she expected upwards of 500 people to attend the market. HYFIN DJ Anthony Foster provided live music during the Saturday afternoon event. The station is affiliated with Radio Milwaukee 88.9.
Although this is the first holiday event planned between MKE Black and HYFIN, it’s not their first time partnering, Patterson-Ramos said. Since HYFIN launched during this year's Juneteenth celebration, the organizations have been working with one another to highlight Black businesses.
“The goal is to get people exposed to a lot of different types of Black owned businesses in Milwaukee because a lot of times people don’t know they exist,” she said.
Mission accomplished for Grace Fuhr, one of the market's many customers. She bought a novel for herself and a book for her child from Rooted MKE.
Fuhr hadn't heard about Rooted MKE before the event but said she now plans to visit Rooted's brick-and-mortar shop, 5312 W Vliet St., which sells books featuring Black, Indigenous and people of color.
"It's a priority for me to support Black businesses so they can be successful," she said. "The majority of Milwaukee's population is non-white so it makes sense that we have a thriving Black-owned business community."
A book written by a witness to bullying
One of the youngest entrepreneurs selling on Saturday was Cameron Fry, 16, who published a children's book in 2020 called "Why bully me?" Fry was inspired to write it after a personal experience witnessing bullying in his school and wanting to learn more about the causes and actions behind bullying. His table featured copies of his book, as well as shirts and pins raising awareness about bullying.
A table kitty-corner to Fry's featured a mother-daughter duo. The biggest sellers for Pansy Williams were the zodiac bracelets, waist beads and fanny packs sold in bright printed patterns. All of her products are made in Ghana and she started her business, Mamakale African Experience, about a year ago to "share the culture" of her fiance's home country with Milwaukeeans. Her daughter, Zeniya Verdin Williams, took up a third of the table with her henna drawing station.
Many of the vendors set up shop at pop-up markets across the city throughout the year. Some said business has been good this year.
"Everyone's showing the love," said the husband of Mamie Garner, who sells shea butters in flavors ranging from peach cobbler to pumpkin spice.
Other vendors, like Alicia Gilmore, said there seemed to be an oversaturation of pop-up markets this year. She spent Friday at the Sherman Phoenix Marketplace where she said there were plenty of customers but business was slower than at last year's Black Friday event.
Gilmore designed a Juneteenth shirt in 2020 and said she sold 46 of them in less than four hours, prompting her to launch a side business called "Say it louder." She's expanded her inventory to include hoodies, jewelry and stickers. One of her designs printed on tote bags and T-shirts has the outline of the city's boundaries with "414" on top.
Among the Saturday shoppers was Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who recently lost a close race against Republican Sen. Ron Johnson. He came across the event through Instagram and showed up because he said he's been a big supporter of HYFIN since the beginning. He also said he wanted to support local business owners because they offer as good a product if not better than big box stores.
"Keep some dollars in the city," he said. "There's no point in spending all your money at Amazon and Walmart."
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Milwaukee pop-up market promotes Black-owned businesses