When Mandy Bowman returned to downtown Brooklyn after college, she was shocked by the number of small, black-owned, family-run shops closing in the area where she grew up.
Fed up with big chain stores poaching profits from small local black-owned stores, Bowman decided to create a transparent way to encourage consumers to “buy black.”
Bowman started Official Black Wall Street in 2015 as a shareable spreadsheet of black-owned businesses to support long-standing neighborhood stores.
Named after Tulsa’s prosperity Black business district which was destroyed by a white mob in 1921, OBWS is an ever-growing directory of black-owned businesses in 10 different countries on one accessible, user-friendly app.
Later this year, the app will even include geolocation technology and AI to alert shoppers when they’re near a black-owned business suited to their tastes, to encourage wise spending.
Today, the directory lists 5,941 black-owned businesses around the world, including nearly 600 businesses in Brooklyn. And it’s only getting bigger.
“It seemed like it was a bit overnight that there were so many black-owned businesses closing in my neighborhood,” Bowman said.
“Around the same time, I was learning – and experiencing – how difficult it is to succeed as a black entrepreneur. I also discovered Black Wall Street in Tulsa and the success of this community. All of these things made me want to get out and hang out with the black-owned small businesses in my community.
The directory includes everything from restaurants and cafes to doulas, business consultants, and suppliers of clothing, fine art, home goods, toys, beauty services, and even automobiles.
One of the best things Bowman said he bought through the app was a clock and a set of coasters, all in the shape of the African continent, for his house.
However, it is not just a platform for consumers.
In addition to listing businesses, OBWS also provides crucial resources for black business owners, including access to quality legal advice, marketing tools, and even ad space on Snapchat.
So far, nearly a million people have used his app to spend their money on black businesses.
“Especially post-pandemic, it’s so important that we have a central location – that’s state-of-the-art and provides a great user experience – that allows people to not only find the businesses they’re looking for, but also to discover new businesses that are worth supporting,” Bowman said.
The app is free for consumers to download and business owners can list their stores.
“Black homeowners are going through even more inflated challenges because of the pandemic, and my goal is to keep them going.”
Prior to starting OBWS, Bowman worked as a digital marketer and social media manager for popular magazines and record labels.
One of the most rewarding parts of being CEO, Bowman said, was choosing your own team. Last year, she hired her mother to be the full-time guest services manager, and her COO is a good friend.
“It’s important to have qualified people you trust on your team,” Bowman said.
“My mom has been OBWS’ biggest cheerleader from the start. It’s been surreal to have created something that I can use to support my community and my family. She even works weekends even though I tell him not to.
Bowman’s advice to other black women entrepreneurs is that life experience and perspective are all assets, and with enough trial and error, success will come.
“The way we see things, the things we consume, our culture — use that to your advantage and show it off,” Bowman said.
“The most gratifying thing is when I hear from business owners who are on the platform and they are so grateful for the impact it has had on their business.”
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