By Megan Sayles
After a two-year absence, the BZB Holiday Gift and Art Show will return to Washington, D.C. at Shiloh Baptist Church’s Family Life Center this month. Tagged the “largest African-American department store on the East Coast,” the 100,000 square-foot market covers two floors and features more than 80 Black entrepreneurs and artisans.
This year, the BZB Holiday Gift and Art Show is celebrating its 30th anniversary, and it will open its doors on Black Friday and remain open to the public every Saturday until Christmas Eve. It will also be open Friday, Dec. 23.
“Together, the artists, entrepreneurs and myself are ready and we’re back,” said Juanita Britton, CEO of BZB International, Inc. and founder of the event. “We don’t plan on stopping, and we have all that you need.”
Britton, nicknamed “Busy Bee” at the age of three by her grandmother, formed BZB in 1983 as a special event, marketing and African diaspora travel firm.
The BZB Holiday Gift and Art Show was spawned a few years later after her visit to Brixton Market, a bustling multi-cultural showcase for Caribbean and Africa artisans in South Central London.
Inspired by the sight of so many Black and African makers and artisans showcasing their products in a classy, upscale marketplace, she decided she wanted to bring the concept to the states.
After garnering interest from the D.C. business community, she hosted the first event, gifting several Black businesses a free space in the market.
Nearly 24 of the businesses have been part of the BZB Holiday Gift and Art Show since the beginning, and Britton’s been able to witness them grow from small, family-run operations into large-scale enterprises.
D.C.-based Unitees did just that. The custom print shop began with family members pressing T-shirts, relying on just one machine. Now, Unitees manages its own embroidery factory, and it’s supplied apparel to customers from all over the world.
When COVID-19 spawned social distancing, Britton organized smaller pop-up art galleries so Black artisans and entrepreneurs could continue selling their products during the holidays.
This year, the BZB Holiday Gift and Art Show will include jewelers, clothing designers, psychiatrists, natural food connoisseurs, painters, sculptors and more.
A staunch advocate of the Buy Black Movement, Britton thinks more people from the African-American community are starting to recognize the importance of using their dollars to patron Black-owned companies and not just big-box retailers.
“Buy Black is a way of life. It’s not just going to the corner store and buying potato chips,” said Britton. “It’s literally understanding and knowing that it means something to the Black economy that we spend as much of our disposal funds as we can with Black businesses.”
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