As a steady stream of people stopped by his table, Brian Dawkins, owner and creator of From Baltimore With Love, explained the inspiration of his clothing line brand to anyone who was interested.
“A lot of the information that you see about Baltimore is negative, and people refer to [HBO’s] ‘The Wire’ and what’s going on in the news,” Dawkins said. “But we all know Baltimore is much more than that, so we came up with a concept that changed the narrative and told a different story.”
Dawkins runs one of five Black-owned businesses that were celebrated Thursday at an event sponsored by the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, Guinness Open Gate Brewery and Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.
The gathering was held to announce the second class of the Downtown BOOST (Black Owned and Operated Storefront Tenancy) Program, designed to place Black-owned businesses in downtown storefronts and support their long-term success.
The program offers its cohorts $50,000 apiece in grants to support build-out and operations (up to $20,000 toward the interior improvements of the retail space; up to $10,000 for exterior improvements and signage; and a potential $20,000 BGE small business grant for qualifying applicants).
Several hundred people crowded into an event space on West Lexington Street to check out and support the businesses, each of which had a display table. Visitors could peruse products of the varying businesses, with owners available to answer questions and handle any transactions.
“What we’re seeing and feeling here, it’s a construction more than just a physical presence,” Shelonda Stokes, president of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, told the gathering. “We’re constructing lives and hearts and changing things.”
Maryland ranks No. 2 in the nation for successful minority owners, with nearly a fourth of all businesses in the state owned by minorities. Maryland also boasts a 59% job growth rate at minority-owned businesses.
In addition to From Baltimore With Love, four other businesses will also receive physical storefronts: Bmore Empowered, Smith Co., Décorelle and Sacred House.
Just over two years ago, the BOOST program introduced its initial class of businesses. Bryan Robinson, owner of The Black Genius Art show, celebrated the grand opening of his physical storefront in December 2021. He said having the storefront has allowed him to do more with his art, connect with people individually and allow them to experience art in a creative space.
“The cohort created a family environment for other businesses,” Robinson said. “The resources are one thing, but being able to have the support of other businesses even ‘til today is huge.”
Following the awarding of the grants, the cohorts must take classes sponsored by the BOOST program and The Cube Cowork to ensure the various businesses have a wide and robust support system to reach their goals.
These cohorts will also be connected to a vast group of experts for technical, legal, accounting and marketing services.
Mayor Brandon Scott attended the event and said it left him hopeful and excited about the future of downtown Baltimore.
“Any opportunity we have to invest and support in the long-term success of these businesses is a win for all of Baltimore,” Scott said.
The mayor also said, “Black and women businesses are the backbone of our own city so if you want to win, go with Black women!”