Celebrating the past decade of Black businesses in Grand Rapids with a pop-up shop

GRAND RAPIDS, MI– A Black-oriented business group commemorated its tenth anniversary as an organization with a pop-up shop event to honor their business leaders.

The Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses (GRABB)

The 1530 venue, 1530 Madison Ave. SE, was filled Thursday, July 27, with 16 small businesses associated with the Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses (GRABB).

They were selling products from Black businesses that encapsulated the mission of GRABB: the celebration and inclusion of Black artisans in the Grand Rapids economy.

Related: Grand Rapids Black business group celebrating 10th anniversary with mixer, pop-up market

Della Levi at Dolla Soul Records

Dolla Soul Records sold vintage vinyls, POP! figurines and music memorabilia.

GRABB named the event a “Sankofa” mixer, which is a word of Akan origin that means “one must return to the past to move forward.”

In line with this vision, Jamiel Robinson, founder and CEO of GRABB, reflected on the impactful moments that have shaped GRABB into the organization it is now.

Robinson said most organizations don’t make it to ten years, reflecting back on the 2013 aunch as the first impactful moment for the organization. Robinson said he didn’t know the group would be successful when they were planning out the first stages.

The launch event had over 200 visitors.

“The launch was the ushering in of the group in the community and we really wanted to make sure we kept that focus and alignment on trying to make sure that African American entrepreneurs have the same equitable access,” Robinson said.

One of their first significant moments was GRABB being hired in 2015 by Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. (DGRI) as consultants to help grow the number of Black and minority-owned businesses downtown.

These partnerships only grew in 2016 when GRABB partnered with the city of Grand Rapids and Start Garden, a nonprofit that helps grow unique and minority-owned businesses. They created a pilot program called GRABB Five, where five businesses were aided in their growth.

Darel Ross, co-director of Start Garden, said GRABB has always been a great resource in connecting their company with talented Black business owners, working hand-in-hand to make Grand Rapids a prosperous place for Black businesses.

“It’s a hard sector to work in with some of the challenges [Robinson] is facing as far as black businesses, with historical underfunding and racism and so forth, with obstacles he overcomes,” Ross said. “He is the right guy for it at the right time.”

Robinson said one of their hardest moments, but one of the moments he was most proud of, was the organization’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. GRABB was able to support Black businesses in a time when it was hard to support any small businesses.

Their most recent accomplishment is developing their new headquarters, District 2012, on the southeast side of Grand Rapids. It was in the works before the pandemic, but now is n the final stages this year.

Related: Grand Rapids economic development group working to improve the success rates for Black businesses plans HQ

The renderings for the headquarters were projected across the walls at Thursday’s event, showing the community what’s next for GRABB.

A table near the entrance to Thursday’s event encouraged community members to “Join the Shift.”

To Sharri Lane, owner of 98 Petty Lane, selling custom jewelry at the pop-up shop, the “shift” means to be ready for change as a collective of Black businesses.

“We’ve got to be able to do something for ourselves and not rely on others,” Lane said. “We can do much better together than we can do individually.”

Sharri Lane at 98 Petty Lane

Community member Britney Yonkers looks around 98 Petty Lane at the GRABB popup market.

Britney Yonkers, a community member and small business owner herself, said she felt inspired by the organization and the businesses showcasing their unique items. She sells vintage clothes online,

“It’s really cool to actually see that my culture has their own community and their own products,” Yonkers said.

Community members stopped at every table, starting a conversation with the business owners, learning about the vision of their business and how they fit into the unique mission of GRABB.

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