fbpx

Portland’s Black business owners choose collaboration over competition

by Ezekiel J. Walker
Portland's Black business owners choose collaboration over competition
Listen to this article here

Portland, Oregon is a transient hub for many, including Black-owned businesses that want themselves and their customers to feel right at home.

To ensure love is continually served, many Black business owners have relied solely on one another in a move that co-owner of Drink Mamey, Cydnie Smith-McCarthy, says is purely intentional.

Our seat. Our table.

According to Eater, Smith-McCarthy only allows products from Black-women owned businesses to be sold at her shop and declined multiple offers, even if it means the shelves aren’t always fully-stocked.  She explains, “We are a Black-owned business, and our space is for Black people and our shelves are for Black women.”

Smith-McCarthy continued, “You wouldn’t believe how many emails I get from White people and White women who ask on a regular basis to be on the shelves.”

Portland's Black business owners choose collaboration over competition

Drink Mamey owner Cydnie Smith-McCarthy Molly J. Smith / EPDX (Eater Portland).

Is Portland ready to reconcile its racist past?

Since 2020, there has been more of a collective focus to support Portland’s Black-owned businesses — partially a response to the city’s reckoning with its own racist history, and partially due to the increase of Black-owned businesses, restaurants, and pop-ups opening across the city.

Local projects like Support Black-Owned Restaurant Week, along with BIPOC markets like Come Thru PDX and My People’s Market, have only bolstered the Black creativity that already existed in Rip City per Eater.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – African Proverb

In addition, collaboration with other Black-owned businesses builds a foundation for not only their social growth but also their family legacy. “It’s important to bring Black wealth back and generational wealth,” Smith-McCarthy says, “Everyone deserves a chance to do that.”

According to Eater, Portland’s racist lending practices and development projects like the I-5 expansion and the Legacy Emmanuel expansion displaced thousands of Black families and businesses, making it difficult to keep Black people to establish or create wealth in Portland long-term.

From Oakland with Love

Brea Gladney is the owner of Treats By B, a plant-based custom cake business that she started about eight years ago in Oakland. When she moved herself and her business to Portland, Gladney began naturally connecting with other Black-owned businesses.

“I cater to everybody, [but] when I do look at it, everybody I do work with is Black,” Gladney says. “That has made it a lot easier from a cultural aspect, because they just get it. The products blend together more naturally — taste, look-wise. … It’s not from a shade standpoint; in a sense, we have to. There’s a different way we look out for each other. It makes it easier to win with your people.”

Treats by B (Facebook)

Working with other Black folks became even more important to Gladney after moving from the diverse city of Oakland to Portland, one of the Whitest cities in the country.

Like Gladney, Two Wrongs owner David Hall moved from another diverse city — Los Angeles — to Portland. When he opened Southeast Sandy sports bar Jackie’s in the summer of 2021, Hall knew he wanted to work with other Black-owned businesses, especially when sourcing ingredients for the food and drink menus.

At Jackie’s, Drink Mamey juices serve as the foundation for specialty drinks in a seamless collaboration that’s deeper than an endless mimosa.

Black businesses in Portland check in so you can check out.

“Being Black and brown business owners and actively growing a business in trying times, and then you add the layer of protests — we check in on each other on the mental health side of things,” Hall says. “You’re always looking out for each other.”

In addition to stocking Black products on Black shelves, many Black Portlanders also hire and promote Black staff to work in their spaces, often mirroring the very community in which their customers reside.

In Portland, intentionality is key for Black business owners, and with that key, they unlock potential far beyond their individual aspirations and create a rooted network of Black excellence throughout the city of Trail Blazers.

You may also like