Jody Davis was pleasantly surprised this past week when a group of six Black women politicians walked into her downtown showroom boutique looking to buy her creations.
The women said they discovered the designer of feminine frocks after seeing first lady Dawn Flythe Moore wear Davis’ monochromatic white ensemble during January’s historic inauguration, where her husband Wes Moore became Maryland’s first elected Black governor.
“I’m an ordinary woman who has worked hard to build my brand. This is awesome. It’s a blessing. That warms my heart,” said Davis, who has been creating dresses for Dawn Flythe Moore for the past 11 years.
Black-owned or -run businesses reported 30% to 40% increases in business the week of Gov. Moore’s inauguration, they told The Baltimore Banner. That uptick has continued in the weeks that followed, they say, adding that the overwhelming majority of the patrons responsible for the increase have been Black.
“The trajectory since then has really picked up,” said Davis.
The Black dollar has always been powerful, said Linda Loubert, associate professor economics at Morgan State University. She said the uptick in sales reported by Black businesses reflects a continued “momentum” to support them.
“Not only is it good to buy Black, but we even have more sense of pride and we can show it off more,” she said.
The Moore Miller Inaugural Committee spent $4.6 million on the event, according to an economic and fiscal impact report released Tuesday. It was prepared for the committee by the Regional Economic Studies Institute at Towson University.
The inauguration supported 61 jobs and generated more than $2.7 million in labor income and over $7.8 million in state GDP, according to the report. In addition, the inauguration generated a combined $211,497 in state and county tax revenue. Meanwhile, the events supported 34 jobs with minority-, women- and locally owned businesses. That spurred more than $1.5 million in labor income, over $4.8 million in state GDP, and a combined $90,230 in state and county tax revenues, according to the report.
First lady Dawn Flythe Moore, who co-chaired the inauguration ball, said she was happy to learn that Black businesses experienced a positive financial impact from the week of the inauguration.
“We set out to be very intentional about being very inclusive and deliberate to utilize Marylanders from across the state,” she told The Banner.
Ninety percent of the money spent on vendors for the ball and the swearing-in ceremony went to small businesses, she said. Of those vendors, 75% were minority- and women- owned businesses.
“The power of the Black dollar is just as important as any other dollar spent,” she said. “I’m excited that we were able to spend money in a majority Black city, and that dollars were spent that way.”
The first lady said the inclusive efforts made during the inauguration are in line with the governor’s priorities and will be indicative of his administration.
“He’s setting up an administration that reflects the people of Maryland,” she said. “We know Maryland is a great state. But when more people are involved in the process, it will be greater.”
Jared Ball, professor of communication and Africana studies at Morgan State University, said he is not surprised to hear of the uptick in sales. But he wants to see the state and federal governments do more to ensure that Black communities build wealth and continue to support other Black businesses.
“This is an issue of public policy and state and federal support,” he said. “If money is released back to the community, they are going to spend it. All of us contribute to the wealth in this economy and all of us should benefit from it.”
Ball said he is unsure of whether Moore, a Democrat, will be able to do that. “I don’t know that one governor can do all that is necessary, and I don’t know if it’s in his interest to do that kind of real work,” Ball said.
For Brittny Bagley, who owns Baltimore-based B.Luxe Event Rentals, the connections she has made from the inauguration have been invaluable.
“It gave B.Luxe that visibility. The event solidified and validated us as an event rental company,” said Bagley, who was hired by the first lady to style VIP rooms at the inauguration party held at the convention center.
Bagley also used the opportunity to recommend a dozen other Black-owned businesses — from florists to pastry chefs — to work the event.
“The event was really centered around community and putting dollars behind Black businesses,” Bagley said. “It was about uplifting all of our businesses to another level. It was the largest event we have done. We contributed to one of Maryland’s most historic celebrations. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Bagley said she started to see a 20% to 30% increase in business the week after the event when she started posting photos of her work on social media.
Chris Simon, owner of Blk Swan, a Black-owned restaurant and bar in Harbor East, saw a 25% increase in sales during the inauguration.
“The week of events that led up to, and including the inauguration gala, were very impactful for our business,” he said.
”After the inauguration and the gala, the restaurant was a packed house for the rest of the night,” Simon added. “Everybody was suited booted, and very elegant. It was literally what I dreamed about when creating the concept of Blk Swan.”
The increases in sales continued the next month with the CIAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Division II Tournament at newly renovated CFG Bank Arena. The restaurant experienced a 50% increase in sales.
“I believe this says that we [Black people] have economic power to impact businesses, and that it’s important for businesses to create spaces that are comfortable and that [have] programming that aligns with those customers,” Simon said.
Even though Sagamore Pendry Baltimore, the Kevin Plank-backed waterfront hotel in Fells Point, is not Black-owned, its general manager, Juan Webster, is Black. He believes Black patrons may be drawn by seeing someone who looks like them.
“What I’ve learned and what I’ve seen, Black people are eager to celebrate my success by supporting my success,” Webster said. “It’s not common to see a Black person in this position in the luxury sector. It’s few and far between.”
Webster said business sales were up 40% during inauguration week compared to that same week a year earlier. It was an unexpected bump for that time of year, he said.
“We knew the inauguration was coming, but we did not know the significance of the impact,” he said. In addition, he saw a noticeable increase in the percentage of Black patrons at the hotel and its restaurant. During inauguration week, 70% of the hotel’s patrons were Black, compared to the 50% the hotel typically hosts.
“It was Black excellence on full display. Seeing Deval Patrick, Kevin Liles, and Chris Tucker. It was literally the ‘who’s who,’” Webster said, referring to the former Massachusetts governor, entertainment executive and actor-comedian, respectively.
Webster, too, saw the bump in Black patrons continue with the CIAA tournament.
“Because of the inauguration, we’re able to welcome people back in the near future,” he said. “They are aware that we are here and that we exist.”
For Davis, the inauguration provided a bucket list moment for her as a designer — a shoutout from media mogul Oprah Winfrey.
Stylist Lana Rae, who worked with Maria Williams to curate the ensembles for the first family during inauguration week, said Winfrey approached her in Annapolis just before the swearing-in ceremony. The two talked about what the first family was wearing. Winfrey said she loved the creations — in particular the designs of Davis. The interaction was captured on video and later shared through social media.
“I’ve always believed that I would one day make a connection with Oprah but didn’t know how,” Davis said. “I felt proud that my passion for designing has been recognized by one of the world’s most powerful women, Oprah.”