Some minority businesses in Philadelphia not seeing holiday shopping boost

TaRhonda Thomas Image
Friday, December 9, 2022
Some minority businesses not seeing holiday shopping boost
Some minority small business owners aren't seeing a boost in sales, even during the busy holiday shopping season.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- With baby-sized mannequins and festively-decorated windows, Buddha Babe in the West Mount Airy section of Philadelphia brightens up the corner of Emlen St. and West Mount Pleasant Avenue.

"Babies inspire hope and joy and love," said the luxe baby boutique's owner and founder Tina Dixon Spence.

The brick-and-mortar store opened in November 2020 after existing for a few years online. And, in that time, she has gotten local accolades and international exposure.

"We were in British Vogue three times," said Spence.

But Spence has learned that publicity and profit are two different things.

"People think you're doing so much better than you are," she said, "because they see you getting these awards and on all these lists and (they think) 'Oh she's doing great. I don't need to support her.'"

But, for Spence, nothing could be further from the truth.

"This year has been the worst year. Strong decline in revenue. Steep decline in in-store traffic," she said.

At a time of year when some shops are making record sales, Spence has had only ten in-store customers since Black Friday. It's a hardship echoed by other local Black business owners with whom she communicates.

"A lot of our businesses are bootstrapped by ourselves," she said of the economic challenges. According to the African American Chamber of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, Black businesses are less likely to secure loans for the amount they need in order to establish or maintain a small business.

That type of uphill battle is the reason Visit Philly is trying to give Black and Brown businesses a boost. The City of Philadelphia has declared every Friday in December to be Shop Black Business Friday, and Visit Philly composed a list of Black and Brown-owned businesses to support on its website.

That list includes Buddha Babe, which carries hand-sewn rompers, pants, onesies, blankets and bibs. Spence learned how to sew by first making the bibs then expanded to other items including customers' top choice of a custom blankie which comes in three sizes and one of her favorite choices: rompers.

"They are so sassy," she said of the tiny rompers decorated with a shadow image of the Philadelphia skyline. The shop carries many items with a Philadelphia flair including their exclusive print including Philadelphia icons such as the Love state and, of course, a pretzel.

There are also items for adults.

"We have soaps, bath salts, body oils," she said, noting that the items come from local creators.

The boutique also hosts sewing classes for kids and adults and birthday parties.

"We have an after-school sewing club," Spence said of the sewing options, which include a summer camp and sewing classes on days when school is not in session.

She's had to pivot several times to find the inventory and operation that works best. Another pivot could be coming soon, as she'll stop in-store sales on December 22 to reassess her business model and decide whether to continue to operate a brick-and-mortar store. In the meantime, Buddah Babe is open for the holidays. Spence couldn't think of a more perfect present than a few new customers.

"We've built it," she said, "and now you need to come."

Buddha Babe's hours are as follows:

Monday-Wednesday: 10am-6pm

Thursday: 9am-2pm

Friday & Saturday: 10am-6pm

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