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Friday, April 12, 2024

Pop-up market celebrates local Black businesses, cultural heritage

Retail store Anthropologie hosted a Black History Month event Saturday

Masked customers shop at the new Gainesville store Wednesday.
Masked customers shop at the new Gainesville store Wednesday.

Between the racks of earth-toned clothing and shelves of minimalist home decor of Anthropologie, six vendors sat at small folding tables scattered throughout the store. They were eagerly greeting the patrons, inviting them to browse the selections of handmade jewelry, home baked cookies, organic jam and more displayed on vibrant tablecloths. While each of them offer something different, the one thing they have in common is being local Black-owned businesses. 

Saturday’s Anthropologie Community Pop-up Market in Butler Town Center, at 3217 SW 35th Blvd., occurred from 12 to 4 p.m., with six vendors in attendance. 

The vendors included Sugar Baby’s Cookies, Diasporic Pigments, My Soulful Intentions, author Danisha Huntley, Jayda’s Jam, and members of The Cotton Club Museum and Cultural Center.

Danisha Huntley is a 25-year-old self-published author. Her children’s book, “Lost Land,” follows the story of a young Black girl. 

As a staff member for an after-school program at Millhopper Montessori School, Huntley said reading her book to children is one of her favorite parts of being an author.

“I love seeing them get excited about the book and relating to the characters,” she said. “I want children to know that they are cherished, encouraging them to embrace their unique design and to love without limits.” 

Huntley said Black History Month is about both acknowledging the history and celebrating the achievements of Black Americans.  

“I think by highlighting Black businesses that are small and local is such a helpful way to celebrate Black History Month within the community,” she said. “Even if someone can’t support financially, giving a shoutout or stopping by a pop-up market…are great ways to support as well.” 

Stephanie Monteiro, a store manager at Butler Plaza’s Anthropologie, said the company reached out to store managers to organize a pop-up market to support local Black businesses. 

“It's an opportunity to celebrate Black history, as well as the contributions of Black Americans,” Monteiro said. “It's a time for us to get together and recognize them and celebrate, and that's why we invited them here today.”

To make the Black History Month pop-up market event possible, she teamed up with Butler Plaza vice president of marketing Ashley Byrant.

“Anthropologie is a progressive company and really takes inclusivity and diversity…seriously,” she said. “I reached out to all the black businesses that I could find.”

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The Cotton Club Museum and Cultural Center, at 837 SE 7th Ave., is dedicated to the preservation and appreciation of Black culture and history. 

Deloris Rentz is the museum's financial secretary and a member of its board of directors. She taught in public schools in Alachua County and Pinellas County for more than 30 years before retiring. 

Her years teaching, she said, opened up her eyes to the number of  schools and organizations attempting to teach all of Black history in just a single month.

“For me, Black History Month is a celebration of that history, just like you have celebrations of other holidays and events,” Rentz said. “So, during the month we celebrate [Black history], but throughout the year, we continue to teach it and explore it.” 

Rentz said many of the people she spoke to that day were not aware of the Cotton Club Museum, which she attributes to its location in East Gainesville. She said people who live on the west side of Gainesville should explore the east side to familiarize themselves with what it has to offer.

“We have as our mission, the teaching and celebration of African centered culture and history,” she said. “We believe African American history is American history. So everybody should learn it, and everybody should celebrate.”

Yvonne Ferguson, a Gainesville artist and founder of Diaspora Pigments, began her business to promote  her portraits of Black celebrities, including Prince, Rihanna and Jean-Michael Basquiat.

Ferguson emphasized she celebrates Black history every day, not just in February. She said her favorite part of being an artist is empowering people through representation.

“When I get to interact with or observe kids seeing my artwork, especially younger black kids, I get to see them identify with similar features or skin tones,” she said. “It feels good to affirm their experience…shift that into a more proud space of appreciation for their Black skin and their Black bodies.”

Ferguson said the market was an opportunity to reach new demographics local Black businesses may not have yet reached. The businesses are able to foster meaningful connections and mutual understanding between communities, promoting greater inclusivity and representation within the marketplace while also building their customer base.

“Making a space for black vendors to be prioritized is not something that's done here locally very frequently,” she said. “It gives us an opportunity to have a platform to share…our work, our creativity and our culture with new audiences. These kinds of opportunities are critical in shifting perceptions about the black experience.” 

Gainesville’s up-and-coming Black-owned businesses echoed the value of the Anthropologie Community Pop-up Market to them.  In addition to taking the opportunity for economic growth, they aimed to present diverse narratives of the Black experience , hoping to foster greater understanding and appreciation for Black culture in unreached areas of Gainesville.

Contact Emilia Cardenas-Perez at ecardenas-perez@alligator.org. Follow her on X @emiliaandreaa.


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