LaTonya Turnage, owner of Elite Secrets Bridal, one of the businesses chosen for the BOOST program.

Five entrepreneurs have been selected to take part in a new incubator program designed to fill empty downtown retail spaces with Black-owned businesses.

Mayor Brandon Scott and the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore announced today that the initial businesses that will be part of the BOOST (Black-Owned and Occupied Storefront Tenancy) program are:

  • The Black Genius Art show – a multi-media creative space and fashion brand owned by Bryan Robinson;
  • Codetta Bake Shop – a café and bakery specializing in dessert items owned by Sumayyah Bilal and Christopher Burgess;
  • Elite Secrets Bridal – a bridal design house owned by LaTonya Turnage;
  • Media Rhythm Institute – a hip-hop-inspired media space with a café and educational studio owned by Deverick Murray, Jimmie Thomas, and Tiffany Welch;
  • NKVSKIN – a line of natural beauty products owned by Nikia Vaughan.

Under the BOOST program, selected businesses receive financial and technical support to open a retail location at one of several available downtown storefronts pre-identified by the Downtown Partnership. The five entrepreneurs announced today were selected from among 30 applicants whose proposals were reviewed by a blue-ribbon panel. Some have online businesses and wanted a brick-and-mortar location, while at least one of the businesses is expanding to a second location.

The leases are negotiated separately, and none of the businesses is open yet. The program provides each selected entrepreneur with up to $50,000 in grant funding to help cover capital and operating expenses. It also supports the entrepreneurs throughout their first year with professional services that provide technical, legal, accounting, and marketing advice, including assistance with design and construction of their spaces.

A press event was held today at the future location of one of the entrepreneurs, Elite Secrets Bridal, at the base of the One Charles Center office tower, 100 North Charles Street. Locations for the other businesses were not all disclosed because some of the entrepreneurs haven’t finalized their leases.

All of the businesses will be within the boundaries of the Downtown Management Authority District, a 106-square-block area framed roughly by Greene Street on the west, Pratt Street on the south, I-83 and President Street on the East and Centre Street on the north, with a spike up to Chase Street along Antique Row.

“Today’s announcement isn’t the end of our journey with these five amazing businesses. It’s just the beginning,” said Downtown Partnership President Shelonda Stokes, in a statement. “We didn’t create BOOST to check off a box and move on. We’re in it with them for the long haul because their success will create opportunities for other entrepreneurs to follow in their footsteps.”

Advocates say the program represents an attempt both to fill retail vacancies downtown and to support Black-owned entrepreneurs as the city reopens following the shutdowns prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Initiatives like BOOST are critical for strengthening Black entrepreneurship in Baltimore, so I commend Shelonda Stokes and Downtown Partnership for their continued support,” said Mayor Brandon M. Scott. “This funding is needed to nurture our growing Black business sector and ensure the future success of aspiring Black entrepreneurs across the city.”

Designed to be a national model for entrepreneurship, BOOST is presented by Fearless, a $40 million Black-owned technology company located on Market Place. Additional support is coming from BGE; M&T Bank; the Baltimore Development Corporation; Gross, Mendelsohn & Associates; the City of Baltimore Small Business Resource Center; Maryland Small Business Development Center; DLA Piper; the Greater Baltimore Urban League and the T. Rowe Price Foundation.

“Starting a business is incredibly challenging but the barriers to success are even higher if you’re a Black business owner,” said Delali Dzirasa, the founder and CEO of Fearless, in a statement. “With BOOST, we’re removing barriers upheld by structural racism that makes it harder for Black-owned businesses to access capital, attract a broad customer base, and grow generational wealth.”

All five businesses are expected to open in their chosen locations within a year, ideally by the end of 2021, said Michael Evitts, Senior Vice President of Communications and Brand Management for the Downtown Partnership. The selection of additional entrepreneurs is contingent on funding, but the goal is to have future application rounds and fill more empty retail spaces, he said.

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.

One reply on “Five Black entrepreneurs chosen to fill empty retail spaces in downtown Baltimore”

  1. Why is not considered racism when you separate someone by race for accomplishments or failures segregation is segregation . Why can y they just be humans. Why define by the color of their skin and not the quality of their character.

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