The walls of Suite 105 in Sicklerville, New Jersey were lined with tables and chairs, hosting Black business owners and their potential customers at The Black Market SJ on Saturday, July 25. Cars filled the small parking lot outside the stripmall where Suite 105 is located, and people lined up at the door to enter the event, wearing masks and maintaining social distance.
“I make a conscious effort to spend my money throughout the Black community,” said Mardeen Robinson, who traveled to the event from Plainfield after learning about it on social media.
As customers milled around and met business owners, a DJ played upbeat music and a photographer moved through the crowd, capturing moments between businesses and potential customers. All in an attempt to help promote Black-owned businesses in South Jersey.
“We want to be sure that we’re circulating Black dollars and taking care of our people,” said Jessica Smith, who organized the event with Barshay Graves. “There’s so much going on in the world right now. I haven’t been able to attend many protests or stand on the front lines of the BLM movement. This was my way of supporting my community.”
Both Smith and Graves are South Jersey residents, alumni of Rowan University and entrepreneurs.
“Jess and I felt that we wanted to uplift our people,” Graves said. “We both decided that a vending event for local Black businesses was the best way to do that. We plan to keep it going.”
The venue, Suite 105, is Black-owned as well. The event space held about 15 vendors, and social distancing precautions were taken by business-owners and customers. Tables were kept 6 feet apart, temperatures were taken upon arrival, and masks were required. Staff limited the number of people allowed inside, and attendees shuffled in and out throughout the day.
Myshia Jones is the owner of Suite 105 and a resident of Sicklerville.
“We haven’t had many events because of COVID-19,” she said. “I’ve been really particular about the events and the number of people who attend them. I couldn’t pass this one up. I love what Jessica and Barshay are doing here. I made sure I supported every vendor here today. I feel honored that they chose my venue.”
There were about 200 attendees throughout the day, many eager to support local Black businesses.
“I love to see young people putting together these types of events,” Robinson said. “I was a bit hesitant to come because of COVID-19, but this is put together very safely.”
Many attendees learned about Black-owned businesses they didn’t know existed in the community. Many attendees stopped by each table to hear about what the vendors were offering.
“Barshay and I wanted to make sure we had a variety of different vendors,” Smith said. “We tried to have one vendor per product being sold to create less competition for the vendors as well. We wanted our vendors to feel safe and supported.”
Shoppers could find a little bit of everything. Businesses sold food, wellness shots, pressed juice, clothes, sweet treats, CBD-infused snacks, a DJ, books, and home goods.
Myeesha Jones is the owner and operator of Juicing with the Joneses, a pressed juice business she started with her family just a few months ago.
“I started this business to give back to my community,” she said. “The Black community has been greatly affected by COVID-19, and a lot of that is because of our underlying health conditions. If I can introduce more of my family and friends to pressed juice, I believe it could help with their health.”
Businesses paid a vendor fee of $25 to be a part of the event. The low cost made the event accessible for new businesses, Myeesha Jones said.
“This is my second event that was put together by young Black South Jersey residents,” she said. “They’ve been very fruitful for my business. The vending fee has been very minimal for both. These events make me so proud of my people.”
The Black Market SJ started at 1 p.m. and when it ended at 5 p.m., all vendors pitched in to clean up the venue. Most had sold out of their inventory by the end of the day.
“We had a vision and it came together,” said Graves. “I’ll admit I was a little nervous about doing this for the first time, during a pandemic, but it turned out great. Jess and I are proud. This is just the first of many.”
Editor’s note: Our special reporting on COVID-19 may focus on communities outside Philadelphia because many of our student journalists are now temporarily located outside of the city. Instead, our reporters will cover how the coronavirus is impacting their own communities from across the country and around the world. We will return to hyperlocal coverage of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods as soon as possible.
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