As Downtown Raleigh comes back to life, Black Friday Market imagines a new path forward

As Downtown Raleigh comes back to life, Black Friday Market imagines a new path forward
Plywood that once covered windows following protests over the murder of George Floyd last year now decorates the walls inside the Black Friday Market, which sells products and art by mostly local, mostly Black-owned small businesses on Hargett St. 

 

 

Black Friday Market sells hundreds of products and art from dozens of small businesses. But there’s one piece of art that never will be sold — a mural of Huey Freeman, a character from the Boondocks comic strip.

There’s something that makes the Huey Freeman mural different from most of the other art on the walls. If you look closely, you’ll see grains of wood that run beneath the vibrant colors. It’s not painted on a canvas, but spray painted on three separate wooden boards.

It’s a reminder of the shop’s beginnings, and the ideals that drive its future.

The wooden boards once covered the broken windows of a Downtown Raleigh shop down West Hargett Street in the aftermath of last summer’s George Floyd protests. Much of downtown Raleigh was damaged, including the storefront occupied by the previous tenant of Black Friday Market’s space.

“They took those down in January and needed a place for them,” says Johnny Hackett, owner of Black Friday Market.

“You know, that’s my guy,” he continues, flashing a Huey Freeman tattoo on his arm to prove it. “So I was like, ‘Of course, bring him on in here.’”

The mural was painted by the artists Wel Sed and Lord Phly. In it, Huey Freeman — a 10-year-old self-described revolutionary, named after Huey P. Newton — stands against a vivid yellow and pink sky, in front of a crowd holding various signs: “Revolution is inevitable,” “Go harder for Breonna” and “Recognize your role in gentrification.”

“That’s the only thing not for sale here,” Hackett says. “I’m keeping that one.”

Johnny Hackett stands for a portrait with painted plywood that covered windows downtown during last summer’s protests after the death of George Floyd, inside the Black Friday Market which he opened in December 2019 to sell products and art from small, mostly Black-owned businesses, on Wednesday, Aug 4, 2021, in Raleigh, N.C. Casey Toth CTOTH@NEWSOBSERVER.COM

In addition to local art, Black Friday Market sells various products from more than 80 small businesses — men’s and women’s clothing, tote bags, pressed juice, candles, jewelry and more.

The business model of Black Friday Market is intended to provide a retail space to local artists and entrepreneurs who might not be able to afford their own storefronts. Most of the businesses, though not all, are Black-owned.

The store has allowed its vendors to grow and thrive. Black-owned businesses have earned over $200,000 through sales at Black Friday Market, Hackett said.

On a sunny Saturday afternoon, customers mill about the store, trying on clothes and jewelry in the mirror, sniffing candles and admiring art. Music plays loudly over the speakers — “mostly ’90s R&B and soul,” Hackett says. Customers chat with one another and with employees about product recommendations and weekend plans.

It’s hard to imagine that a year ago, West Hargett Street felt completely abandoned. Most stores on the block had their windows broken, and the once-busy streets in downtown were now eerily quiet.

Not only were thousands of workers working remotely in the midst of the pandemic shutdown, but the city was still reeling from the Black Lives Matter protests and the unprecedented riots that followed them the weekend of May 30. The demonstrators, many who marched peacefully for days, tried to imagine a more just future — one with an end to police brutality and other forms of violence against Black people.

Downtown Raleigh is coming back to life, with 37 new storefront openings and 27 business reopenings since the start of the year, the Downtown Raleigh Alliance reports.

Now, business owners are trying to find a way toward rebuilding that still incorporates that vision.

That’s part of why the Huey mural is so important to Hackett — and why it isn’t for sale.

“Just reminders, man, of that rough summer,” he says. “We made it past.”

 Kayla Walker rings up customers at the Black Friday Market, which opened the storefront downtown in December 2019 to sell products and art from small, mostly Black-owned businesses, on Wednesday, Aug 4, 2021, in Raleigh, N.C. Casey Toth CTOTH@NEWSOBSERVER.COM

 

SUPPORTING BLACK-OWNED BUSINESSES

On Dec. 2, Hackett walked into the empty storefront on 23 W. Hargett St. The only evidence of its previous damage was a crack in a window all the way at the top of the building.

Other than that, the storefront was a blank slate.

The first thing that Hackett and the rest of the team who founded Black Friday Market did was cover up the floors and paint the walls white. Dominique Crosby, the store’s creative director, hand painted the Black Friday Market logo on the wall.

Black Friday Market is an initiative of the Black Dollar Corp., which Hackett founded in 2019. The Black Dollar Corp. also runs #BlackDollarNC, an online directory of Black-owned, North Carolina-based businesses. Owners can add their businesses to the directory for free. It currently features over 1,100 companies.

Timothy Eaton, the president of #BlackDollarNC, says the intent of the directory is to make it easier for people to support small local businesses and Black-owned businesses, when it often feels easier to buy from corporations and other large brands.

“We wanted to show people we have options,” Eaton says. “We don’t have to shop at major corporations and feel that’s all we’ve got. There are people in our communities doing the same things, and we can shop locally.”

As the Black Lives Matter movement surged last summer, for many, there was a new urgency to buy from Black-owned businesses.

But, Hackett says, the Downtown Raleigh Alliance and Raleigh’s Office of Economic Development and Innovation supported #BlackDollarNC “since before it was popular to do so.”

Black Dollar Corp. has worked closely with the city to support small businesses since its founding. Last year, as more storefronts emptied — with small businesses shuttering as a result of the pandemic — the Downtown Raleigh Alliance approached Hackett and asked if the Black Dollar Corp. would be interested in opening a storefront.

Robert Rouse, right, visits with Kayla Walker, left, and Jasmine Bullock in the Black Friday Market, which opened the storefront downtown in December 2019 to sell products and art from small, mostly Black-owned businesses, on Wednesday, Aug 4, 2021, in Raleigh, N.C. Casey Toth CTOTH@NEWSOBSERVER.COM

The business model of Black Friday Market is intended to maximize profits for the businesses in the store, according to Hackett. Businesses pay a flat fee to sell their products and keep 100% of the sales, and Black Friday Market receives no commission.

“That was a mutual thing that helped us pay the bills and staff and things like that, but also allows the business owners to profit as much as they can, because there’s no profit sharing,” Hackett says.

When Black Friday Market opened in December, foot traffic in downtown was much lower than it was pre-pandemic, and establishing a storefront was still a risky venture.

To mitigate the risk, the initial length of Black Friday Market’s lease was three months. If they weren’t successful in that time frame, they could back out of the lease. If they were, they could renew for a multi-year lease, which they ended up doing in March.

On Dec. 18, they held their grand opening.

“We invited all our business owners, and we let them cut the ribbon because — because it’s all their stuff in here. That was a really fun night, we had champagne everywhere, everyone was happy,” Hackett says.

“We had gone through so much that year, obviously, all of us,” he continues. “But that was a good day for a lot of people.”

Scaffolding covers the exterior of the Black Friday Market, which opened the storefront downtown in December 2019 to sell products and art from small, mostly Black-owned businesses, on Wednesday, Aug 4, 2021, in Raleigh, N.C. Casey Toth CTOTH@NEWSOBSERVER.COM

 

The Huey Freeman mural isn’t the only piece of art in the shop painted on boards that once covered broken windows.

At the front of a store is a wooden board that reads, “This is a Black-owned business.” And behind the counter are boards that read, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free,” and “There is still no justice for a Black woman murdered by police in her own bed, sleeping in her own home.”

Aerial Sanders, a local knitwear artist, painted them at Evette’s Beauty Salon, which her mother owns on South Wilmington Street.

“During the George Floyd riots, my mom’s shop — it’s been a downtown Raleigh staple for more than 30 years — her shop got destroyed,” Sanders says. “So when the boards went up, we wanted to send a message to everybody, and beautify my mom’s shop in a way that she’d be proud of.”

When the boards were taken down, Sanders considered donating them to a museum or selling them, and ultimately decided to put them up for sale at Black Friday Market.

“We literally walked down the street with them on our heads because they were so heavy,” she recalls.

Sanders says her mother’s shop was able to be eventually repaired and renovated.

A man stands in Apex Outfitters and Board Company to help protect the shop during a protest in downtown Raleigh, N.C. Saturday, May 30, 2020. Apex Outfitters had its entire store looted and damaged extensively. The costs of reopening were too great, and the shop’s owners closed the location in December 2020. Ethan Hyman EHYMAN@NEWSOBSERVER.COM 

 Even though the physical damage of West Hargett Street wasn’t visible when Black Friday Market moved in, the effects of those months were tangible in other ways.

The storefront itself was vacant because the previous retailer, Apex Outfitters, closed after it was damaged and looted during the violence following last summer’s protests, The News & Observer reported.

And Black Friday Market bought much of its furniture from The Art of Style, a nearby clothing shop that recently had gone out of business. Hackett said that store also was damaged during the riots.

One of One Boutique, a shoe store and partner of the Black Dollar Corp., had its windows broken last summer. Hackett, who has lived in Raleigh since 1998, remembers watching as the sun set and downtown began to turn to chaos. He drove downtown that night, past the “destroyed” DGX on Davie Street, and found that the windows were broken at One of One Boutique.

“We were a Black-owned business that got windows busted that Friday night,” Hackett says. “People don’t care. At that point, they just don’t care, they’re looking for anything to break.”

Although the destruction that followed the first three nights of protests last summer was devastating, Hackett says he understands why Floyd’s murder elicited such an impassioned response.

“You’re talking about loss of life and people’s anger at that, versus protection of property or business owners’ property. I don’t like rioting. I hate it. I don’t think it accomplishes too much,” Hackett says. “But I can defend the person who threw a brick, because I know why he’s frustrated. The second you value a window over a life, you’re going to lose that person.”

‘THE FUTURE IS BRIGHT’

Around 3 p.m. on a recent Saturday, Tyler Jones comes into Black Friday Market and points to the paintings hanging above the counter.

“I need those back,” he says.

At first, Richard Campbell, who’s working the register, is confused. “You need them back?” he says.

Jones explains that he’s recently submitted his artwork to the nearby 311 Gallery, and he needs some original paintings to display. After Campbell congratulates him, he grabs a ladder from the back and climbs up to get the paintings off the wall.

“Hey everyone,” Hackett calls out to the store, his voice booming over the music. “I know I’ve said that sometimes we have business owners come into the store. Here’s one of them. He just got his work into a gallery!”

Customers in the store applaud and cheer. One man, at the store with his two children, asks Jones for directions to the gallery from Black Friday Market so he can visit later.

Jones, who’s 19 years old, says he’s been making art since he was a kid getting in trouble for drawing on Scantrons. His paintings explore “how personally different the African American experience is from the societal conception of that experience,” he says.

“I try to capture everyday moments, the beauty of something as simple as a sigh.”

When he came into Black Friday Market a few months ago, he was trying to get his art career off the ground by looking for connections and a place to display his work. Hackett agreed to show his paintings and introduced him to some gallery owners.

For Sanders, the artist who painted the boards behind the counters, Black Friday Market has become a community that goes beyond profits and business connections.

“I feel like the money that you pay to be in the store doesn’t compare to what you get back from the store,” she says.

And as one of the artists in the store whose products advocate for racial justice, Sanders says she feels free to experiment with designs in a way that big corporations do not.

“There’s this idea that the almighty dollar is the only thing that’s pushing the economy — it’s not unity, it’s not your fellow man, it’s not knowing whether we’re going to make it to tomorrow without something tragic happening to someone on the news again,” she said.

But her art — along with many other products in the store — rejects that premise. So, too, does Hackett’s desire to help businesses grow out of Black Friday Market, to become successful enough to sustain their own physical spaces and perhaps fill the other storefronts that remain empty throughout downtown.

“We’re super proud of Tyler. That’s what this is all about — if we can help get you somewhere else,” Hackett says. “The goal is always to help get people to get their own store or gallery or restaurant or whatever it is.”

Black Friday Market is planning to open other locations in and beyond Raleigh, Hackett says, but he hopes the storefront on West Hargett Street will always remain their flagship location.

“I love being here, being on the frontlines with other business owners and city leaders, trying to make Raleigh a better place,” he says. “The future of downtown Raleigh is definitely bright.”

And for Eaton, the success of Black Friday Market speaks to the change that Raleigh has endured in the past year and a half, and shows it can be a part of that bright future.

“That’s magnificent, to go through a time of turmoil, riots, destruction of buildings, COVID,” Eaton says. “But to have Black businesses continue to thrive through that, that shows you the community actually came together to support all these businesses, to keep things going in the right direction.”

 

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