A Rescue Plan That’s Saving Black Businesses
The vendors at MELANnaire Marketplace, created by Nachand Trabue, sell a variety of products, from handcrafted jewelry, skincare products and clothing to fresh goods and cafe foods. This month the marketplace will be open Saturday, October 9, at 4th Street Live! and October 16, 23, and 30 at Manhattan on Broadway. Check the schedule for other future dates.
Even though the COVID-19 pandemic has been awful in many ways, it has been the impetus for some innovative and entrepreneurial ideas. When individuals lost their jobs, saw their hours cut way back, or had to close their brick-and-mortar stores, they realized they had to find a new way to earn money.
Some of them reached out to Nachand Trabue, executive director of Bates Community Development Corporation and owner of Manhattan on Broadway. “A lot of them said ‘I need help and direction on what I can do to make money,’” she says. “I decided to convert my event space into a mall for Black-owned businesses, and that’s how MELANnaire Marketplace came about.”
Originally called Black Businesses Matter Pop-Up Mall, it was planned as a one-time event on September 5, 2020, but the response was so great that Nachand and her team decided to make it a once a month event…which became a twice a month event. The popularity of the market led to its official renaming as MELANnaire Marketplace and regular hours: every Saturday Noon-5pm at Manhattan on Broadway. One Saturday per month, there is also an off-site marketplace at Fourth Street Live that runs from Noon-6pm concurrently with Manhattan on Broadways’ market. (This month MELANnaire Marketplace will be open Saturday, October 9, at 4th Street Live!)
The vendors at MELANnaire Marketplace sell a variety of products, including handcrafted jewelry, candles, skincare products, clothing, and headwraps. Nachand says artists and craftspeople have come out of the woodwork, some of them who didn’t even realize they had a talent until the pandemic forced them into directions they never would have gone. There are also many culinary artists who love to bake or cook and have gotten certified by the board of health so they can sell their fresh goods and cafe foods.
“Part of our mission statement is to help Black business owners build generational wealth,” says Nachand Trabue.
Word of mouth by both vendors and shoppers has been a huge part of MELANnaire Marketplace’s success, as well as a seamless application process. Many of the vendors who participated in the original “one-time event” continue to sell at MELANnaire Marketplace, and they have flexibility on whether they sell every Saturday or only a couple times per month. Nachand and her team work to ensure regular vendors participate but also that new vendors can rotate in and have a selling opportunity.
Nachand sees her role as both a serial and a social entrepreneur. In addition to a lot of energy, she also has a passion for helping her community. “I want to be impactful and help other business owners. Part of our mission statement is to help Black business owners build generational wealth,” she says.
Strategizing for Success
She shares her knowledge with new vendors who may not be familiar with the ins and outs of business creation and ownership. “We offer a series of classes to them: Customer Service, Marketing 101, Selling 101, and an entrepreneurship series,” she says. “You can’t just give them a table and space. In order [for them] to scale up, they need development, workshops, classes, and mentors.”
That support and a focus on collaboration is something that vendors and customers feel as soon as they walk into MELANnaire Marketplace. “We stress to vendors the importance of building relationships. People are going to buy from who they like, trust, and respect. You have to build that type of relationship,” she says. While building that trust with clients and customers, Nachand also stresses that vendors shouldn’t devalue themselves or their wares. “Know your worth. Your price is your price, and you have to believe that your product is worth it.”
Nachand and her team have also begun offering vendor management services to help Black-owned business owners branch out and make community connections beyond MELANnaire Marketplace. More and more companies, organizations, and schools are looking to support Black-owned vendors, and Nachand realized that with over 500 vendors in the MELANnaire Marketplace, she and her team can serve as a one-stop shop. “We take our vendors to different off-site events,” she says. “If you want Black-owned businesses at your event, you don’t have to go look for them.”
Check the MELANnaire Marketplace schedule for other future shopping dates and locations.