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In The Black: ShopBlackCT seeks better business equity

Updated: Nov 2, 2021

• Innovative ShopBlackCT Boosts Consumers and Black-Owned Businesses

This article first appeared as the cover story in the September edition of Today Magazine, our monthly publication

By Bruce Deckert — Today Magazine Editor-in-Chief

IN THE BLACK — for those who are unfamiliar with this business-related phrase, here’s the definition from the online Cambridge Dictionary:

in the black – idiom — earning more money than you spend

This year our business is in the black.

The opposite phrase is as follows:

in the red – idiom — spending more money than you earn

The company has been in the red for the past year.

Likewise, in case you are unacquainted with, let’s make the introduction.

ShopBlackCT is an innovative initiative that seeks to boost Black-owned businesses in Connecticut and support consumers via a convenient website listing that expedites finding these businesses and accessing their quality goods and services.

Yes, ShopBlackCT aims to help the state’s Black-owned businesses operate in the black — while helping consumers stay out of the red by identifying the valuable deals and everyday value these companies provide.

The volunteer-run initiative lists businesses for free and offers complimentary digital marketing, writing and photography services. As the not-for-profit website states: “This effort is 100% about giving, lifting up others and expecting nothing in return.”

Avon resident Sarah Thompson founded ShopBlackCT, launching the website on July 1, 2020 in the wake of two monumental events that rocked the nation and shocked the world — the COVID shutdown of March 2020 that led to countless layoffs and business closures, and the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, on Memorial Day.

She started building ShopBlackCT in June 2020 and debuted in July with an online list of 175 businesses that has increased to the current listing of 1,650 from more than 100 towns and cities statewide. Connecticut has 169 municipalities, per the website.

Thompson and Yvette Young are the ShopBlackCT co-leads as well as colleagues at The Village for Families & Children in Hartford. Thompson is the senior director for marketing and communications at The Village, and Young is the associate vice president for programs and advocacy.

“My personal mission is to make a difference in the lives of children and families,” Young says on The Village website. “To be present and supportive to those in need.” She extends this commitment in her work with ShopBlackCT.

In an August 2020 Today Magazine article, Thompson wrote: “Two pandemics have compounded to create enormous challenges for Black-owned businesses in Connecticut: COVID-19 and racism.”

She cites some compelling statistics — for example, COVID forced 41% of Black-owned businesses to close compared with 17% of white-owned businesses, according to a 2020 report. Further, for decades Black businesses have been denied business loans disproportionately, and Thompson attributes this primarily to the systemic racism that ShopBlackCT aims to counteract.

The initiative’s stated mission is “to challenge structural racism and transform the legacy of economic and social inequity in the U.S. by providing a platform to drive business to and awareness of local Black-owned businesses.”

Valerie and Robert Legagneur, a husband-wife team, are co-owners of Kerian Home Health Care Agency in Simsbury, which is listed on — with ShopBlackCT founder Sarah Thompson of Avon • Photo by Connecticut Headshots • • 860-593-0850

The website notes that “Black-owned businesses face disproportionate challenges due to system racism.”

Americans have debated this issue, often along political and ideological divides. Many say that systemic racism is a significant problem, while others question or dismiss it.

Those who assert that systemic racism is a major issue cite alarming statistics, the history of U.S. race relations and other evidence. Those who question the reality of systemic racism cite extensive advancements in civil rights since the 1960s, along with laws in place today (that weren’t in place then) prohibiting discrimination in the American socioeconomic realm.

“While these laws and civil rights advancements have helped society take steps in a better direction,” Thompson says, “systemic racism is deeply rooted in the very fabric of our country.”

She notes that laws alone don’t eradicate systemic racism — “it still has a heavy imprint on education, health care and other societal systems, which directly impacts economic equality.”

Thompson recommends a time-honored human approach as a way to move toward resolving the debate: “I would challenge those who dismiss systemic racism to do one thing — listen,” she says. “Listen to people of color to hear their stories. Listen to understand, not to rebut.”

She encourages people to allow room for another’s perspective and “to accept what you’re hearing as a lived experience of that person,” if not necessarily “as a representation of all people of color.”

“Listen with genuine compassion, especially if you are not a person of color,” Thompson says. “I can almost guarantee that if you do this, the lens you’ve been looking through will shift.”

How can the two sides of this debate find common ground and move toward a better and more equitable American society for all?

“ShopBlackCT provides a perfect opportunity for common ground,” Thompson says. “By choosing to support the businesses listed on our site, both sides can work toward the shared goal of helping to stabilize the community by supporting local businesses that have something for everyone and are working hard to drive the economy…”

“As long as we’re working together to create an equitable opportunity for all businesses to succeed in Connecticut, we are on the right track.”

In an exclusive Q&A with Today Magazine, Thompson illuminates her hopes for the future of ShopBlackCT and much more:

Most satisfying accomplishment in ShopBlackCT’s first year-plus?

I’m so thankful that ShopBlackCT has grown eightfold in just one year. We’ve now been established as Connecticut’s go-to website for Black-owned businesses, have created a platform where people are connecting, businesses are growing and positive community impact is happening. To think of what has happened in just a year is just amazing.

Most fulfilling aspect of your work in general?

I believe firmly that we all play a role in tackling racism. We cannot simply sit on the sidelines — especially people who look like me — and do nothing, when we are still living in a time where there is deep racism plaguing our systems. So for me, I feel grateful to be allowed to share about the incredible Black-owned businesses that are all across our state, share the stories of the business owners, get to know many wonderful people, and be trusted to do this work. It’s an honor.

Your primary goal and/or hope for ShopBlackCT in the next year?

I hope that we can build our volunteer team even more and develop more partnerships to help ShopBlackCT continue to grow and permeate Connecticut.

Your wildest and widest dream for ShopBlackCT?

My biggest dream for ShopBlackCT is that it would list every Black-owned business in Connecticut and, in doing so, that it would help dismantle the systemic racism that has caused social and economic inequality in our country. I dream for ShopBlackCT to provide a platform — for years to come — for relationships to be built, conversation around race to stay at the forefront, wealth gaps to be filled, and for all business owners to have equal opportunity to thrive.

Your biggest challenge pre-launch, and how you overcame it?

Pre-launch, our biggest challenge was to find the information about Black-owned businesses, since that was one of the reasons the site was launching in the first place. I searched online, reached out to friends and family, made phone calls to verify businesses, and listed businesses I had already frequented. There were many late nights to get the site up and running, but I was committed then and am committed now to this work, so when you are passionate about something, that’s what drives you.

Your biggest current challenge, and how you plan to overcome it?

One of our biggest challenges is keeping up with the growth of the site and supporting the businesses in the ways we set out to — our blog business feature articles are in high demand, but we need the people power to be able to provide that support.

In a different (but perhaps even more important) vein, we still face challenges of people not understanding why this site is necessary, and I’ve been accused, more times than I would like, of being racist and divisive because I am promoting Black-owned businesses.

On the other side of the coin, my intentions have been misunderstood by some who believe that any initiative like this should be only Black-led. There is much work to be done in this space, and it’s messy work. I’m here for the long haul, and with that will always come challenges.

How many volunteers does ShopBlackCT have?

About 20.

Volunteer opportunities:

We have several teams — writing, photography, social media, data. Right now, our biggest need is for writers and photographers for our business features that we publish in the blog on our website.

Does ShopBlackCT accept monetary donations?

Yes, we have sponsorship opportunities available for various aspects of our initiative.

How closely do you work with other agencies, organizations and nonprofits?

We have worked with many people over the course of the year to help grow ShopBlackCT and support CT Black-owned businesses. The list can be seen on > About > Thank You.

We’re especially excited to have partnered with Planet Fitness (30 locations in CT are Black-owned), Outfront Media (who provided free billboard space for us throughout CT), the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun (who have spread the word to their fan base through video, social media and their website) and Hot 93.7 FM (who have had us on air several times). NBC CT has been a great support as well, providing a significant amount of coverage and highlighting Black-owned businesses that we’ve connected to them throughout the year.

Editor’s Note — ShopBlackCT has also been featured on WFSB-3, FOX61 News, WTNH News 8 and other media outlets.

Relevant stats + numbers:

• currently lists over 1,650 businesses from more than 100 cities and towns in every county in CT.

• 95% of business owners surveyed said ShopBlackCT is helpful for CT Black-owned businesses.

• 83% reported more exposure, increase in sales or new connections to other business owners thanks to ShopBlackCT. +

• Today Magazine editor-in-chief Bruce Deckert is an 11-time award-winning journalist

• This article was first published as the cover story in the September 2021 edition of Today Magazine, our monthly publication — and you can read Sarah Thompson’s previous ShopBlackCT articles in Today’s August 2020 and February 2021 editions:

• Today Magazine covers the heart of Connecticut's Farmington Valley, recording the underreported upside of the Valley's five core towns — Farmington, Avon, Canton, Simsbury and Granby

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