Special: Black Entrepreneurs Find Common Cause At Ponce City Market
By Ernie Suggs, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Troy Warren for (CNT) City News And Talk #atlanta-ga
Lakeysha Hallmon just wanted to watch.
Last Thursday, as masked contractors noisily worked on her store at Ponce City Market, she pointed out its features but could barely be heard.
The store, The Village at PCM, is the culmination of four years of helping local Black entrepreneurs make their startups successful.
On Friday — Black Friday — Hallmon will open the marketplace that will bring under one roof 25 local Black business owners and Black brands to sell their apparel, home goods, and items such as clothes, furniture, art, and wellness and beauty products.
“I want to advance and position Black businesses to engage new markets. To engage what is possible,” Hallmon said. “I can’t imagine how we can have an economic impact in Atlanta without advancing and positioning black businesses.”
In 2020, largely because of the pandemic, Black businesses cratered. In August, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York released a study showing 41% of Black-owned businesses across the country shut down between February and April, while about 17% of white businesses shut down.
The authors wrote that COVID-19 exacerbated existing demographic disparities like historic funding gaps and less access to capital, including federal Paycheck Protection Program loans.
On the heels of the study, Hallmon’s Buy Black Campaign helped up-and-coming Black businesses sell $1.8 million in goods — on top of $2.7 million that Village Market had already generated by pushing and promoting them.
Hallmon had recognized the need in 2016 and began bringing together Black entrepreneurs under the Village Market banner to showcase their work and train hundreds of them in business education and community engagement.
The brick-and-mortar store was the logical next step. The opening of The Village at PCM comes as Ponce City Market adds half a million square feet of new development and amenities to the existing two million square feet on Atlanta’s Beltline.
“I am not afraid to take a risk in COVID,” Hallmon said. “I am doing the opposite, which is opening a business. Advocacy is another part of my mission, and I want to take away the excuse that we can’t find black businesses.”
In her tiny hometown of Batesville, Miss., Hallmon’s great-grandfather was a farmer and sold his goods to the community. Her grandmother was a seamstress who made dresses for the community. At the same time, her family depended on the community for their goods.
Hallmon said those were her role models.
“I didn’t see my family go outside of our community for things they needed. No one taught me that. This is what I saw.”
Following her sister, Yolanda, Hallmon, 38, was the second person in her family to attend college and the first to graduate from a historic black college and university, Tougaloo College. She got her doctorate in education curriculum and instruction from the University of Mississippi and moved to Atlanta in 2011.
“I loved Atlanta before I moved here because it exemplified Black excellence. I had to come,” Laykesha Hallmon said. “But numbers mean something to me. And I saw the same (business) disparities in Atlanta that I saw in Mississippi.”
Atlanta is one of the nation’s leaders in income inequality. According to the research firm Prosperity Now, while Black-owned businesses in metro Atlanta have an average value of $58,085, the average value of a white-owned business is 11 times higher.
In getting to know Atlanta, Hallmon attended festivals and noticed the lack of vendor diversity. It inspired her to launch The Village Market to empower Black entrepreneurs through education, community engagement and efforts to grow existing Black businesses by exposing them to other Black businesses.
That will carry on through the new shop. Participating businesses have to go through an application that includes nominations and vetting. Dayle Bennett, Hallmon’s long-time friend who has more than 30 years of retail experience, sat down with each vendor to talk through their product to see if it fits the concept of what The Village represents. Yolanda Hallmon will serve as the shop’s manager.
Melita Issa, whose Miso Living brand of curated furniture will be featured in the shop, is also working as the shop’s interior designer.
“For us, it was important that the space looked like anyone belonged here,” Issa said. “We have not identified anything by race. It is more about the heart of what The Village Market is. We wanted to create a neutral, modern environment to showcase the brands.”
Among the businesses ready to move in include, Hairbrella, J. Dow Fitness, Abeille Creations, Just Add Honey Tea Company, The Muted Home, World of Unoia and Savoir Faire.
“It is beyond having a nice product,” Hallmon said. “It is also about social responsibility.”