Seven Black-owned businesses supported by a Downtown Partnership of Baltimore program are set to open next month at the struggling and soon-to-be-reimagined Inner Harbor shopping center.

These businesses are the next cohort of the Downtown Partnership’s BOOST (Black Owned and Operated Storefront Tenancy) initiative, which held a ribbon-cutting for them Wednesday at Harborplace. Most storefronts are under construction and but scheduled to open their doors by the Juneteenth holiday on June 19.

The businesses — Cuples Tea House, Milton’s Daughter, Pandora’s Box, Storybook Maze, Yele Stitches, MoreLife Organic Juice, and Motion Athletics — are moving into the Light Street and Pratt Street pavilions.

“You look around the harbor, there aren’t many Black-owned businesses,” said Eric Dodson, co-owner of Cuples Tea House. “For us to be on the front porch of what we call Baltimore’s first tourist attraction is phenomenal. We are grateful.”

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Cuples Tea House owner, Eric Dodson, speaks with reporters while standing in the Harborplace BOOST Boutique space where their storefront, Vinyl & Pages, will be set up as a part of the BOOST Program. 5/29/24 in Baltimore, MD.
Idris Coleman, owner of Motion Athletics, stands within his BOOST Program sponsored storefront with the Baltimore City skyline reflected in the windows on 5/29/24 in Baltimore, MD.

This is the program’s third cohort; previous participants have retail spaces in other parts of downtown. This year, the initiative partnered with Harborplace owner MCB Real Estate.

Five of the businesses are in a boutique in the Light Street pavilion. It also includes the tenant Made In Baltimore, which returned in February.

The other two BOOST-supported businesses are in their own spaces in the Pratt Street pavilion.

Each of the seven recipients, which were announced in April, receive grants of up to $25,000, two-year licenses and business support. Ten other businesses have previously participated in the Downtown Partnership’s initiative, and were awarded grants of up to $50,000 and retail space on Howard Street or Charles Street.

Dodson and his wife, Lynette, own the loose-leaf tea company Cuples Tea House and used the BOOST program to open what will be their third location. They’ve been in business for nearly a decade and opened Vinyl and Pages, the sister store to Cuples, in 2023.

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“This is an opportunity for us to expand the brand and see what a storefront with the mash-up looks like,” said Lynette Dodson. “I’m hoping that it works. I’m sure it’s going to work, but this will help us set the tone for the next place.”

Cuples Tea House owners, Eric and Lynette Dodson, pose for a photo-op within the Harborplace BOOST Boutique space where their storefront will be set up as a part of the BOOST Program. 5/29/24 in Baltimore, MD.
Eric and Lynette Dodson, owners of Cuples Tea House, speak during a BOOST Program event announcing the program's 2024 chort on 5/29/24 in Baltimore, MD.

Surrounding all of the excitement and celebration at the BOOST launch were empty stores, a reminder of Harborplace’s difficulties keeping tenants in recent years.

P. David Bramble, a local developer and co-founder of MCB Real Estate, unveiled a proposal last year to tear down both pavilions and replace them with 400,000 square feet of commercial space between two new buildings and a nearly 5-acre expansion of public space.

Bramble estimates the proposed plans would cost just under $1 billion, with $400 million coming from public funds and another $500 million in private funding. The City Council already passed three bills to advance the redevelopment.

But the plans require a zoning change to allow residential buildings, which voters will decide in November. If the zoning change succeeds, the first building could be opened by the “near end of the decade,” Colin Tarbert, president and CEO of the Baltimore Development Corporation, previously told The Banner.

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In the meantime, moving in small businesses is an opportunity for Baltimore to recenter what makes it special, said Idris Coleman, owner of Motion Athletics, an athletic apparel store.

“When you visit a place, you get a true sense of what the place is because the businesses are based around it,” Coleman said. “And I think that’s what is unique about Baltimore.”