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Roxbury couple launches ‘by local, for local’ marketplace

Sandra Larson
Sandra Larson is a Boston-based freelance journalist covering urban/social issues and policy. VIEW BIO
Roxbury couple launches ‘by local, for local’ marketplace
Chris and Kai Grant in their Dudley Square event space. (Photo: Photo: Courtesy Kai Grant)

If you go

Black Market, 2136 Washington St., Dudley Square

Grand opening: Saturday and
Sunday, June 10–11, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. both days

For more information: Call 617.293.8609 or visit: Facebook/Black Market Dudley

Author: Photo: Courtesy Kai GrantThe Black Market has already hosted an art exhibition and a local campaign kick-off. It’s envisioned as a space to help small businesses launch.

Author: Photo: Courtesy Kai GrantThe Black Market has already hosted an art exhibition and a local campaign kick-off. It’s envisioned as a space to help small businesses launch.

Author: Photo: Courtesy Kai GrantThe Black Market has already hosted an art exhibition and a local campaign kick-off. It’s envisioned as a space to help small businesses launch.

Two longtime Roxbury residents aim to inject economic energy into the community with a new collaborative business and event space in Dudley Square. The recently-renovated street-level space at 2136 Washington Street will be the site of regular two-day public market events featuring up to 20 local entrepreneurs selling their products and services.

Dubbed Black Market, the venture is the brainchild of husband-and-wife team Chris and Kai Grant. The couple has invested personal funds into leasing the 1700-square-foot space and improving it with features such as track lighting and ceiling-mounted projectors to create a versatile venue for art, film and performance events as well as pop-up commerce opportunities.

“We are sensitive to the fact that Roxbury has now become a cultural district. So this is a retail space, but it’s also a cultural space,” says Kai Grant, speaking recently with the Banner in the new space. Roxbury received the cultural district designation from the Massachusetts Cultural Council in May.

Afternoon sunshine streams in through Black Market’s large front windows, illuminating white brick walls and warm-toned wood flooring. Awaiting the public market’s June 10 grand opening, the high-ceilinged oblong space is empty and quiet — but is expected to be bustling in its first weekend.

“We’ve sold out the vendor spaces for our grand opening and we have a wait list,” Grant says. “It’s just incredible how many people have launched businesses and want to really build cash flow, and have no opportunity to do that on a regular basis. Where on a regular basis can you set up shop without incurring large overhead costs?”

At Black Market, a $100 vendor fee covers two days of vendor space with a 6-foot table and two chairs included.

Variety offerings

Among the wares and services shoppers will find are African artifacts, visual art, shoes, optic wear, graphic T-shirts, culturally designed paper, books by local authors, Afro-Caribbean fashion, vintage vinyl records, jewelry, skin and body care and travel services.

Visual artist Cagen Luse of will be one of the opening weekend vendors. He’ll be selling his “Americana Noir” poster prints and notecards with illustrations based on early 1900s photographs of African American subjects, as well as hand-printed T-shirts and books of his LunchTime ComiX series.

Having participated in many outdoor festivals around the Boston area, Luse is glad for an indoor space and for the chance to show for two days straight without having to load and unload in the same day. But more than that, he is excited about what this venture means for the local community.

“Dudley Square is changing, the demographics are changing. We’re losing a lot of spaces as the rents go up,” Luse says. “So it’s great to have a space where artists and entrepreneurs of color can show their work in Dudley.”

Community entrepreneurs

Kai and Chris Grant have long shared an entrepreneurial mindset. The two have been selling their Fort Hill Jerk Chicken in the community for several years, and plan to open a neighborhood bistro in John Eliot Square later this year. They expect the bistro will create eight to 10 jobs. In addition, Kai Grant in 2009 started the nonprofit Diamond Girls Boston to work with local teen girls on self-esteem and entrepreneurship, and the organization is transitioning into Diamond Diaspora, an education- and entrepreneurship-based initiative connecting Roxbury women and girls with women and girls around the world.

“Chris and I believe in investing in our community,” Grant says, “putting our money where our mouth is.”

While the official launch is June 10, the Black Market venue has hosted two community events already: Kim Janey’s city council campaign kickoff on May 16 and a musical performance and visual art event, “From the Inside Out: Reflections After Incarceration,” on May 26. In each case, Grant pointed out, the events have helped keep dollars circulating in the community by giving business to local caterers. She notes they have sought out local suppliers for everything from lighting and security systems to the Black Market storefront sign set to be installed soon.

Grant envisions Black Market as a catalyst, helping small vendors build stability and capacity, spurring the development of other collaborative markets and growing into a business she and Chris might pass down to their own sons. She notes that Dudley Square bid farewell last year to A Nubian Notion, the convenience and African-themed gift store run by the Abdal-Khallaq family for nearly 50 years — leaving a void that Black Market could begin to fill.

“We are leading the charge in hopes that a new crop of black entrepreneurs … will take up where A Nubian Notion left off,” Grant says.

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