Five businesses will be opening in downtown Baltimore over the next six months with the help of a pioneering program that helps merchants get started in business while filling vacant downtown storefronts.
Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott and Downtown Partnership of Baltimore President Shelonda Stokes on Thursday announced the five groups that have been selected from 50 applicants to open brick and mortar locations downtown.
This is the second group of five merchants selected to open under the Downtown Partnership’s Black Owned and Operated Storefront Tenancy program, or BOOST. The first five merchants were selected in 2021. The inaugural program drew 30 applicants and was so successful that the Downtown Partnership started a second round. It is also working on plans to launch a special BOOST program to find merchants to fill empty retail spaces in the Harborplace pavilions at Pratt and Light streets.
The groups announced Thursday are:
Bmore Empowered: Bmore Empowered operates with the mission to create programming for Black girls and women in Baltimore City that provides them with the tools to live empowered lives through “leadership, entrepreneurship, and holistic wellness.” Its leaders are Kieta Iriarte-Amin, Nazaahah Amin, and Hana Pugh; their future storefront location is 5 N. Howard St. This is the only non-profit organization in this group.
From Baltimore with Love: From Baltimore with Love is an apparel brand created by Brian Dawkins as a “declaration to encourage a positive outlook on the city of Baltimore and its residents.” It allows customers to “represent their city and communicate and offer intentional love.” Its future storefront location is 7 N. Howard St.
Dede: Dede is a home goods store that will feature furniture and decorative items for the home. It’s an offshoot of Decoelle, a six-year-old interior design firm headed by Elle Odoi and Yvette Pappoe, whose goal is to “fill a gap in the interior design market that often fails to capture the middle-income person.” Dede’s future storefront will be at 305 N. Howard St.
Sacred House Apothecary: A second location for Sacred House wellness center at 1041 W. Baltimore St., Sacred House Apothecary will provide high-quality herbal products and services “to support the health and well-being of the community.” Morgan Stokes will sell organic bulk herbs, herbal teas, tinctures, and health products while offering wellness consultations and events. Sacred House Apothecary’s future storefront location is 417 N. Howard St.
Smith Co.: Led by Qwishuna and Von Smith, Smith Co. is a fashion, music and lifestyle retail space that will be the home of two brands, Lobe’ Dangle & Pastels Goods and Co. With roots at the intersection of music and fashion, Smith Co. will offer an exclusive range of premium products and services. Its future storefront location is 100 W. Lexington St., where the announcement was made on Thursday.
The selected businesses reflect the Downtown Partnership’s priorities for improving and invigorating the city, said Sam Storey, the organization’s senior director for economic development.
“Downtown Partnership sees BOOST as an opportunity to instill our shared priorities and values into the downtown economy,” he said. “We want to ensure that downtown provides more creative, one-of-a-kind, dynamic, exciting amenities than it has ever offered before. Through BOOST, we seek to create a downtown that is not just recovered from COVID but transformed into something entirely new. To that end, in the first and now second round of BOOST, we have deliberately selected businesses that are built to last and offer products and services that are not offered anywhere else, not just in the city but often even in the country.”
“These folks are the real deal – passionate, creative, incredibly savvy, hard-working, goofy. We are confident they’re positioned for sustainable growth downtown as they provide new amenities that attract customers throughout the region. But more than just being savvy business people, each of these entrepreneurs cares about their community and are dedicated to giving back as they succeed, from Sickle Cell advocacy to providing free gallery space to emerging artists to coaching other local entrepreneurs. Each and every one of our BOOST businesses has demonstrated they’re active partners in creating a more inclusive, equitable downtown community, and that’s why we selected them.”
The Downtown BOOST Program provides up to $50,000 in grants to support build-out and operations for each BOOST business, including a $20,000 BGE Energizing Small Business Grant. In addition to access to funding, the program connects businesses to local experts for technical, legal, accounting, and marketing services and coaching.
A new aspect of the BOOST program for 2023 is that the storefronts were preselected to save time and help get the merchants open more quickly. Lease terms range from three to five years, and spaces range in size from 900 to 2,300 square feet. According to the Downtown Partnership, “the strategic location of these storefronts was to establish a sense of community between the future tenants while adding vibrancy specifically to the Bromo Arts District along the Howard Street corridor.”
Additionally, in partnership with The Cube Cowork, the Downtown Partnership has revamped its ongoing coaching to ensure that businesses have a “more robust” network of support to help them scale up. For these five, Sulton Campbell Britt & Associates is providing design services and Rosenberg Martin Greenberg LLP is providing legal services.
“The impetus of BOOST is to level the playing field for Black entrepreneurs who have historically had significantly less access to capital and funding, as well as to fill the gaps of downtown retail which has been downward trending since before COVID-19,” Stokes said.
“On the heels of the success of our first cohort, we’re proudly and confidently welcoming the newest Downtown Baltimore tenants into their very own brick-and-mortar retail spaces. Each of these businesses possesses the heart, grit and passion to ignite change, further their mission, and create jobs in the core of our city. I believe the best is yet to come for them and for our downtown.”
The 2023 BOOST headlining sponsor is Guinness Open Gate Brewery. Other supporters include BGE; Baltimore Community Lending; Gross Mendelsohn; Real Projectives; the Maryland Small Business Development Center, the Small Business Resource Center, and Trout Daniel & Associates.
More information about the BOOST program and Downtown Partnership’s other initiatives can be found at GoDowntownBaltimore.com.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated with the correct name of Decoelle co-owner Yvette Pappoe.