There are more than 2 million Black-owned businesses in America, according to the most recent census data, with the vast majority small shops where the owner is the sole employee.
Owners will tell you that their stores, restaurants and services occupy a special role in their communities: They are places to celebrate culture, to feel a sense of safety and belonging.
For National Black Business Month, we’re spotlighting some local merchants you can support before August is over — and throughout the year.
Indulge in sweet treats at Chic Sugars, Englewood
Erika Oldham reaches out her hand to reveal a forearm of vibrant tattoos that run all the way to her fingers.
“These tats symbolize that I work for myself,” says Oldham, a native of Teaneck and owner of Chic Sugars on South Dean Street in Englewood. “When you start putting tattoos on your hands and your fingers, you’re limited on your options.”
Oldham’s maverick streak extends to the creations at her bakery. Sweet treats run the gamut from Nutella and piña colada cupcakes to pistachio macarons and strawberry crunch cake pops, to a dulce de leche cake in a jar and homemade raspberry pop tarts. She also sells sweet beverages.
“Anything that you expect for someone to do, I don’t want to do it,” Oldham says.
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Chic Sugars, which Oldham also calls “The Sweet Spot,” was featured on Food Network’s “Winner Cake All,” in 2019, when Oldham co-crafted a 3-foot caterpillar-themed cake. “I have impostor syndrome and Food Network was something that I needed to kind of just be like, yeah, I belong,” Oldham says. Some of Chic Sugars’ clients include Jay Z, Nicki Minaj, BET, and HOT 97.
Oldham, who previously worked at a hedge fund, started her business in 2009, after deviating from her path toward law school. If she hadn’t attempted to make her daughter’s first birthday cake 13 years ago, things might have been different. “That’s where it all came from,” Oldham says.
Chic Sugars moved to Englewood in May from its original home in Fort Lee. The bakery is all black with accenting colors that bounce off the walls. The menu is neon pink, yellow and blue. A painting features Ruth Bader Ginsburg in a Coogi sweater à la Biggie Smalls. “I wanted the brand to be bold,” she says.
The white-glove service is also important. Often, she says, “Black businesses get a bad name with the stereotype that there’s poor customer service. To prove people wrong and go against that stereotype every day, it’s major.”
She hopes to expand to other cities, but for now, she is preparing for fall. The “Warm and Fuzzy” is one of her signature beverages, a drink that promises to transport you back in time to a breezy fall day at grandma’s house or on a hayride.
Go: 28 S Dean St, Englewood; 201- 371-4911, Chicsugars.com
Savor a fish fry at The Yard, Newark
In the center of downtown Newark is The Yard, with Military Park as its extended dining area. The restaurant offers foods of the African diaspora in an atmosphere of celebration of Black culture.
The flavor profiles pay homage to the American South, West Africa and the Caribbean, with menu items like oxtail burger; fried fish sandwiches sourced from a local fishmonger; and The Black Joy Salad with heirloom tomatoes, fried chicken breast and watermelon. There are also vegan items on the menu.
Owner Kai Campbell opened The Yard in February, but says it’s still in the soft-opening phase. “I wanted people to come and just be somewhere and lose track of time with whatever they are doing or whomever they are with,” says Campbell, who also owns Burger Walla on Halsey Street and Bragman’s Deli on Hawthorne Avenue.
“There are no places anymore where people could just go and be, and in my opinion, it was similar to what we have done at the Burger Walla,” Campbell says. “If anyone wanted to have spoken word or a show or a meeting place, we have always had our doors open.”
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The name has special significance. “There was always a place for Black folks to come together, like on a college campus, and more often, they would say, ‘Yo, meet me at the yard,'” Campbell says. “There’s always a ‘yard’ somewhere and that was the impetus behind why I wanted to do it.”
Throughout summer, The Yard has been having “After Work Wednesdays,” celebrated with a fish fry — a choice of fried whiting or catfish — on a sandwich with hand-cut fries for $10. The sandwich can be paired with a specialty masala sauce or walla sauce (smokey honey-roasted mustard that has a kick to it).
“It’s meant to be very traditional,” he says. And the fair price is important to him.
“The bulk of our customers are women of color and people of color. You know they had to work that much longer and that much harder to earn that dollar,” Campbell says, “So we always want the prices to be the fair, and to give a quality experience.”
Saturday and Sunday from noon to 3 p.m. is brunch. There’s a live jazz band every Saturday, and gospel house music on Sundays.
“Ultimately it’s about Black joy. I don’t always want to have to overcome something and have my joy be in response to something negative,” he says.
“It’s about unencumbered, inalienable joy, you know that is pure, that’s why I do it.”
Go: 55 Park Pl, Newark; 973- 273-0033, theyardnewark.com
Get your kicks at Hush Lifestyle Boutique, Englewood
To all the streetwear fanatics, those who are obsessed with making sure the swoosh in their Nikes matches the color of their shirt, tastemakers and culture influencers, this one is for you.
Hush Lifestyle Boutique on Grand Street in Englewood is a premium lifestyle boutique carrying “anything from coffee table books to candles, clothing, men’s and women’s accessories,” says Ramone Blackburn, designer and owner.
It also carries Nike and The Jordan Brand collections as well as Puma, New Balance, and Adidas. But what makes the shop stand out is the merchandise from minority-owned vendors — the stuff you really can’t get anywhere else. “We have about 15 minority-owned vendors that we support and we also mentor them,” says Blackburn, a West Coast native.
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For Blackburn, it was important to own a store and have the authority of a space.
“Black people are often the trendsetters, and I don’t think that a lot of people that are making these things happen, whether they are working at a company, or working for themselves, are getting the recognition,” he says. “Other people are taking the recognition.”
The boutique also works with the Bergen Family Center. This fall, “We will be meeting with them once a month, talking to the kids about business, entrepreneurship, teaching them about how to price their goods and make a profit,” Blackburn says.
Blackburn, who has a wholesale background, opened the 2,000-square-foot boutique in April 2015. He says, “Being an African-American there wasn’t a lot of access to get information about how to start a business, how to price out goods, how to sell and merchandise it, how to market it.”
He’s learned through mistakes and successes and believes in sharing opportunities.
“I was always taught by my dad that survival is success, so as long as you surviving you are successful.” During the pandemic, Blackburn says, “we had to learn how to move in the paint a little.”
The store offers a luxury aesthetic that carries through the displays, the lighting and the merchandise. A gold bicycle sits in the store window, and lighting makes a gold zipper gleam. Drake, Meek Mill, or SZA might be playing in the background.
“I hope people feel a sense of comfort and safe place when they come in, relaxed, that they can laugh, listen to good music, and shop,” Blackburn says.
Go:10 Grand Ave, Englewood; 201- 503-0021, hushlifeboutique.com
Go natural at Enchantments by Kelli/ Herb N’ Development
Enchantments by Kelli offers a wide array of skin care options, including natural body lotions, deodorants and lip balms. The Therapeutic Body Crème for $20 has ingredients like calendula oil and primrose oil. Owner Kelli McCloud, a Fair Lawn resident, was inspired to start her businesses in 2012 after her own battle with eczema.
“I started to seek out more natural ways of dealing with eczema instead of with the steroids and stuff that just did more damage to my skin than anything else,” McCloud says.
All of the ingredients are certified all-natural and hypoallergenic and come from high-quality suppliers.
Recently McCloud expanded her business to include Herb N’ Development, a consulting service.
As a clinical herbalist, McCloud can help clients use herbs to improve well-being. “We will do a full case history, which takes about two hours. Any blood work that they had done from a doctor, I will review the blood work, and then I come up with an herbal formulation from tinctures or teas or both,” she says.
The consultations take place via Zoom or at McCloud’s home — whatever works. “I want to give the community access to someone knowledgeable in those herbs,” she says.
McCloud recognizes that some people have an aversion to seeing medical professionals, but with herbalism, she said the client may feel that they have a little bit more control.
“For Black and brown people, the access to medicine and doctors is very limited and very expensive,” she says. With Herb N’ Development, she meets her clients where they are at financially. “If someone can’t afford my consultations I will just do it for free. I’m more interested in the well-being of people than actually making a lot of money,” she says. “I got into this to help people.”
Go: 973-489-7821, enchantmentsbykelli.com
Shaylah Brown is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.