Co-founders and sisters Char Edwards (left) and Lanie Edwards (right) pose together during Black on the Block (Image courtesy of Black on the Block).

Breanna Reeves | Black Voice News

There’s no denying that the pandemic changed every aspect of everyday life. After nearly three years of navigating life in a pandemic, many people have reevaluated their lives and their priorities.

With COVID-19 restrictions and ongoing racial tension, for many Black people, the desire for safe spaces and community became essential to their mental health and well-being. Despite the COVID-19 lockdown, many Black businesses began to launch and grow in 2021. 

According to Bloomberg, research from Robert Fairlie, a professor at University of California, Santa Cruz, indicated that Black-owned businesses grew to 1.5 million, a 38 percent increase from February 2020, before COVID-19 was widely detected in the U.S.

Although there was a surge in Black businesses being launched, some smaller businesses had limited options to showcase, advertise and sell their products. Community and craft markets are an important way small business owners sell their products, but many markets lack Black vendors.

For the Love of the Community

During the pandemic, Lanie Edwards, 26, attended a pop-up event as a vendor for her clothing brand Cosier. She noticed that something was missing: other Black-owned businesses. After the event, Edwards returned home to speak with her sister, Char, 28, about the idea of creating a market with all Black-owned vendors. 

“Especially at the height of the pandemic, we found that a lot of people were searching to support Black-owned businesses and didn’t even know where to find them, especially locally,” Lanie Edwards said during a Zoom interview.

With no experience planning an event, the two sisters organized their first market on June 19, 2021 and called it Black on the Block, “a space for Black-owned businesses to flourish.” The sisters decided that Juneteenth, a holiday that celebrates Black liberation and Black joy, was the perfect day to launch the market.

Black on the Block now has more than 100 vendors at their monthly market (Image courtesy of Black on the Block).

Initially, their plan was to have about 30 vendors and to only host the market once. What happened instead was more than they could have hoped for.

The Black on the Block pop-up received more than 200 vendor applications, allowing the sisters to secure 80 vendors and expand their venue. With no professional advertising, the sisters utilized social media platforms like Instagram and Tik Tok to get the word out about Black on the Block. Char Edwards, owner of clothing brand Upstreet Kid, has a large Instagram following (over 90 thousand) which helped to publicize the event.

Black on the Block, hosted in Los Angeles, turned out to be very popular among attendees. Open to everyone including families, pets and people from all cultural and ethnic backgrounds, the event welcomed hundreds of attendees and allowed Black business owners to expand their clientele and promote their brands.

“Then we just decided to keep doing it every single month, and just provide a space for Black-owned businesses to really have a consistent area where they can sell, where people can discover them,” said Lanie Edwards. “So, the goal really is just to broaden the network and make sure that all of these businesses are getting the publicity and the sales that they deserve.”

The sisters’ love of and commitment to Black businesses manifested into a recurring pop-up market that emphasizes Black-owned vendors and supports their efforts to grow their businesses. The market is like one big block party, from the food trucks selling fried catfish to the booths handing out free shots of alcohol.

 So Many Good Black Vendors in a Single Location

Nearly eight months later, Black on the Block is now a monthly event that attracts hundreds of vendors and attendees for one day of the month, usually on Sunday. Vendors from across Southern California, including the Inland Empire, join the event to provide services and extend their reach.

Alyshia Ross, owner of Tipsy Time Bartending, poses with her signature drinks during Black on the Block (Image courtesy of Alyshia Ross).

Alyshia Ross, 29, owner of Tipsy Time Bartending, a mobile bartending service operating throughout Los Angeles and the Inland Empire, was one of the vendors invited to the first market.

“I love Black on the Block. It has to be my favorite pop-up of all of my pop-ups every month because they have such a good atmosphere. It’s like, how could you not want to go because there’s so many good Black vendors and so many independent companies,” said Ross.

Ross attended bartending school when she was 21, but hadn’t considered opening her own business until the pandemic struck. When it was time to return to work, Ross decided to capitalize on her bartending skills instead.

“I just took that leap of faith and went out there and did it, and self-promoted. And I ended up getting my first big pop-up shop with Black on the Block,” said Ross. After the event, her business began picking up.

Chicago rapper Chance the Rapper poses with vendor Nicolette Ellis, owner of itsRandom, at Black on the Block (Image courtesy of Black on the Block).

Other popular vendors are small businesses from the Inland Empire including the IE Drank Tank that sells popular alcoholic beverages and Flossn’ Gemz, a cosmetic business that installs tooth gems in Victorville.

Originally hosted at a venue in Pasadena, Black on the Block has moved to a larger and more creative venue in Los Angeles called the Wisdome LA. The venue is both indoor and outdoors, with interactive and themed domes. 

Not only is the market popular among Southern California residents, but the event has also been attended by notable Chicago rapper Chance the Rapper, Los Angeles-based singer Kiana Ledé, and DJ’ed by O’Ryan.

“We had no idea it was going to get this big or be this meaningful to people. And it’s just cool that it’s not only meaningful to the vendors, but meaningful to the attendees that come back every month,” Edwards explained. “And like people who are just discovering these businesses are like die-hard fans of these businesses now. It’s just a really cool community that we’ve built.”

Chicago rapper Chance the Rapper poses with vendor Nicolette Ellis, owner of itsRandom, at Black on the Block (Image courtesy of Black on the Block).

As Black the Block continues to grow, one of the ideas the sisters have to expand the event is to tour in different regions like the Bay Area and the East Coast. Los Angeles has a few Black-centric markets throughout the county like Black Market Flea, but other cities in different states don’t have access to something like this, said Edwards.

With about five solid team members and a host of volunteers, Black on the Block co-founders hope to attract sponsors to help shoulder the costs of the market. According to Edwards, they are open to a wide range of sponsors, as long as they “align with what we’re trying to do and as long as they’re Black-owned.”

As Black-owned businesses continue to grow and thrive, Edwards offered some advice in regard to maintaining a successful business— cater to your audience.

“And I think that’s what keeps your customers coming back and it’s also what keeps people telling other people about your business,” said Edwards.

The next market will be on February 20 at Wisdome LA, 1147 Palmetto St, Los Angeles, CA 90013. Entry to the market is $5 pre-sale and $10 upon entry.

Breanna Reeves

Breanna Reeves is a reporter in Riverside, California, and uses data-driven reporting to cover issues that affect the lives of Black Californians. Breanna joins Black Voice News as a Report for America Corps member. Previously, Breanna reported on activism and social inequality in San Francisco and Los Angeles, her hometown. Breanna graduated from San Francisco State University with a bachelor’s degree in Print & Online Journalism. She received her master’s degree in Politics and Communication from the London School of Economics. Contact Breanna with tips, comments or concerns at breanna@voicemediaventures.com or via twitter @_breereeves.