Diversity & Inclusion
Baltimore / DEI / Ecosystem development / Events

Howard and Lexington Streets will soon house 5 Black-owned businesses

Meet the brands and entrepreneurs in the latest quintet of businesses to get support and storefronts from the Downtown Partnership's program for Black-owned companies and organizations.

Mayor Scott and Shelonda Stokes pose in front of a Downtown BOOST program podium sign. (Courtesy photo from Collins Co.)
Full disclosure: The author of this article serves on the board of Downtown BOOST cohort member Bmore Empowered. That relationship has no impact on this report.

On a humid summer day, amid the buzz of active construction at 100 W. Lexington Street, the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore (DPOB) launched the second cohort of its Downtown BOOST (Black-Owned & Occupied Storefront Tenancy) program.

This initiative aims to empower and uplift Black-owned retail businesses by providing them with invaluable resources. From storefront spaces to funding and business guidance, BOOST sets the stage for what the DPOB team hopes will be the possibility of success for another set of Black-owned business owners. Shelonda Stokes, the president of the DPOB, said that the program also reflects the area’s often-overlooked history of economic vitality and marginalization.

“While it may come as a surprise, this area once boasted four thriving department stores, all proudly lining Howard Street,” she said, adding: “If ever there was a need for a boost, this is it. Remarkably, it wasn’t until the 1960s that Black individuals gained access to these very stores.”

With this backdrop of history and ambition, Downtown BOOST heralds a new chapter of opportunity for Baltimore’s Black entrepreneurs. By facilitating growth, nurturing talent, and fostering a supportive community, this program aims to reshape the retail landscape and empower a new generation of thriving businesses.

Regarding the ongoing construction and its impact, Stokes was optimistic.

“Right now, amidst all this construction activity, we can feel and see something more than just physical changes,” she said. “We’re constructing not only buildings but also lives and hearts. We’re making significant changes, and today we’re proud to announce five thriving and passionate organizations that will join us in this transformation. … The construction happening here represents a broader effort to shape a better future for our community.”

Bmore Empowered and From Baltimore With Love (FBWL) comprise part of this quintet. Both organizations’ leaders spoke to the program’s importance as a booster of economic inclusion, as well as its potential to disrupt narratives about downtown decline.

(L to R) Shelonda Stokes, Brian Dawkins and Mayor Brandon Scott. (Courtesy photo)

“We want to shift the perception of Baltimore by showcasing its favorable aspects rather than the negative stereotypes often found in online search results,” said Brian Dawkins, FBWL’s founder. “Through the Downtown BOOST program, we are excited about the opportunities it brings to help us on that mission. During our time with BOOST, we hope to launch a sister website where people can customize apparel representing their own cities, such as ‘Albuquerque with Love’ or ‘Italy with Love.’ With the anticipated demand, we plan to hire locally, further contributing to creating opportunities within the city. Our planned location is just a block away from CFG Bank Arena, and we believe it’s crucial for concertgoers and visitors to know that our block is open for business and safe to explore.”

“It’s truly a remarkable partnership to be located right in the heart of Baltimore City, providing these essential resources,” said Kieta Iriarte Amin, cofounder of Bmore Empowered — the only nonprofit in the cohort. “Despite certain perceptions, we are conveniently situated along the main line for the light rail, offering excellent accessibility and an opportunity to reach a wider audience.”

“We are thrilled to revitalize the Howard Street corridor in collaboration with the Downtown BOOST program and Downtown Partnership,” Amin added. “Most importantly, we are enthusiastic about making a difference by empowering and supporting Black women and youth in the city, equipping them with invaluable skills and knowledge.”

Bmore Empowered Team with cofounder Kieta Iriarte Amin (far left) and Shelonda Stokes (middle). (Courtesy photo).

Amin arrived at the event alongside cofounder Nazahaah Amin, staff and board members — all dressed in pink. Mayor Scott, while taking the podium, humorously referenced his tie, saying “I am wearing Bmore Empowered pink today.” He then shared his support for Black-, women- and Black-women-owned businesses.

“If you want to win, go with Black women,” he said. “I know firsthand that Black-owned businesses have been disenfranchised, locked up and priced out of having equitable support to start and sustain their businesses, which is why I’ve been a proud supporter of this program, BOOST, since its inception.”

With the continued support of BOOST and the presence of past cohort members such as Black Genius Art Show and Codetta Bakeshop, whose staff also attended, these Black-owned businesses are poised to possibly thrive and leave a lasting imprint on Baltimore’s economic landscape.

Here’s a full list of the second BOOST cohort’s members:

  • Bmore Empowered operates with the mission to create programming that provides Black girls and women in Baltimore City the tools to live empowered lives through leadership, entrepreneurship and holistic wellness. At the helm of Bmore Empowered are Kieta Iriarte-Amin, Nazaahah Amin and Mayor Scott’s partner (and future mother of their child) Hana Pugh. The organization’s future storefront is at 5 N. Howard St.
  • FBWL is an apparel brand created by Brian Dawkins as a declaration to encourage a positive outlook on the city of Baltimore and its residents. FBWL’s future location is at 7 N. Howard St.
  • Decorelle is a luxury interior design firm that retails home furniture and decor, as well as luxury staging services. Decorelle was created by Elle and Yvette Odoi to fill a gap in the interior design market for middle-income people. Its future brick-and-mortar is at 305 N. Howard St.
  • Sacred House’s second storefront at 417 N. Howard St. will provide herbal products and services to support the health and well-being of the community. CEO Morgan Stokes will sell organic bulk herbs, herbal teas, tinctures and health products while offering wellness consultations and events.
  • Smith Co., led by Qwishuna and Von Smith, is a fashion, music and lifestyle retail space that houses Lobe’ Dangle & Pastels Goods and Co. under its umbrella. Smith C’s future storefront location is 100 W. Lexington St.

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