The presence of black-owned businesses in Columbia dates back far beyond what it is today. According to the Columbia Housing Association’s Plan for Economic and Minority Inclusion report from 2013, blacks in the late 1800s occupied land that the white community had abandoned because of flooding. Due to Jim Crow laws, these were the only areas the black community could dwell in.
Although undesirable and difficult to build upon, black businesses thrived. These areas included Cemetery Hill, Railroad Row, West End and the Sharp End District. According to the report, by the 1950s nearly 61 businesses populated the areas. 100 percent of these were black business; 30 percent of their total business was from the white community.
In 1956, an ordinance passed that targeted the community due to sewer issues. This lead to the destruction of the Sharp End District to make room for renewal housing. According to the Plan for Economic and Minority Inclusion report, several city government commissions had the "objectives of slum clearance and urban renewal." That later resulted in a 126-acre renewal project that ran through Douglass High School, Douglass Park and the Sharp End District. Ultimately, 386 families and 61 businesses needed to be relocated.
Fast-forward to today, there are nearly 170 registered minority- and women-owned businesses in the city directory according to James Whitt, director of Supplier Diversity Program Development. However, "that number does not reflect all of the black-owned businesses" in the city, he says. The Minority & Women Owned Businesses Directory was created in 2014 as an effort to find the minority- and women-owned businesses in our local community and "develop ways to help them grow and prosper," Whitt says.
One of the few black-owned business industries in the city is clothing. The business of fashion is one that is not only profitable but expressive. Three clothing store owners share the stories behind their businesses and their goals for maintaining black business in a small market.
In April of 2013, Nickie Davis opened Muse Clothing after seeing a need in the community for local urban street wear. The store houses mainly locally and American made items for just about anyone. “We try to make our atmosphere as open, interesting and diverse as possible,” says Davis. She aimed to create a space that she would want to shop in and that also catered to her audience.
With a large selection of vintage pieces and items for both men and women, Davis plans on continue her life's work to try to be the change she wants to see. “We hope to project that image to the community, by creating an open atmosphere to anybody no matter their race, size, gender or sexual orientation.”
Address: 22 S. 9th St.
Hours of operation:
Mon.–Wed., 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Thurs.–Sat., 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Sunday, 12 p.m.–6 p.m.
The Greens Co.
Birthed from a love of fashion and a slight shoe obsession, The Greens Co. opened its doors in late October in 2017. The owners, Marquise White and Curtis Taylor Jr., created The Greens as a symbol of “becoming the vision we have always dreamed of.”
By offering a new collection every 3 months, the street wear brand is unique in that it releases “exclusive items” says Danielle Washington, the general manager. “Once an item sells out, we don't replenish.” The brand's current collection, “The Meadows” is a nine-piece compilation of unisex tops. Described as a “curated space that celebrates difference and leverages creativity as a medium to speak a common language,” the business is one that is ahead of innovation.
Although most popular among college students and 20-somethings, Washington says, The Greens is used as a clothing store and event space, offering experiential marketing.
Address: 16 N. Ninth St.
Hours of operation:
Mon.–Sat., 12 p.m.–8 p.m.
Como Beach Clothing
What started as a nickname between friends later emerged to be Como Beach Clothing. “I started making random items with the name on it and people would always ask where I got it from,” says Matt Warren, CEO of the brand. “I saw the demand for the product and capitalized.” By word of mouth he started selling shirts on his personal Facebook in 2013, and by 2014 Warren launched the CoMo Beach website for all to shop.
By offering a range of items such as dad hats, fleece sweaters, tees and waterproof rain jackets, Warren works hard as the sole owner and operator of the business. “I do all of the designs, run social media, do all photography/videography, design and run the website as well as do all of the shipping of merchandise,” he says. “The only thing I don’t do is make the merch.” With operations mainly taking place online, Warren hopes to get more involved with the community for the upcoming season.