The Nashville Black Market: Solving A Costly Storefront Dilemma, With Carlos Partee
In 2018, Nashville, Tenn.-based entrepreneur Carlos Partee was in a slump. Partee runs his own clothing line, called Connoisseur Culture. He and his friend Jovvan Jones, who also runs his own clothing line, wanted to find a brick-and-mortar storefront where they could settle in and sell their merchandise.
The available storefront inventory at the time proved to be less than dazzling, and finding something affordable wasn’t an easy feat for the pair either. Together, they set out to fix their affordability and space problems, and reasoned that if they were struggling, there must be others in similar predicaments.
Partee, who grew up going to the farmers market with his grandmother, was familiar with the concept of small businesses joining forces to create one big bazaar. But when he inquired about selling his clothes at the farmers market, a rule that vendors had to grow their products derailed that plan. After looking around and deciding on a pop-up, their first rendition of the Nashville Black Market launched later on that same year. The first one featured 15 vendors, including Partee and Jones.
Since then, the Nashville Black Market has popped up in various locations in the city and grown exponentially. Attendees can expect anyone from a soap maker to a wine business, with vendors coming from as far away as Chicago to take part. The market grossed $200,000 for its vendors last year, according to Partee, and it provides a vital resource that is part of a larger trend in minority entrepreneurship.
In 2019, the U.S. Small Business Administration reported that minority-owned employer businesses rose 11% from 2014 to 2016, with minority employer-owned businesses numbering 1.1 million and employing 8.7 million people at that time. According to recent figures from the U.S. Commerce Department and the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2019 there were 134,567 Black-owned employer businesses nationwide. The Nashville Black Market seeks to be part of the solution in this equation, by providing vital space and support.
For 2022, Partee says, the local farmers market has offered them a residency. There will be 15 Nashville Black Market events, and they expect to host at least 30 to 40 vendors in an atmosphere Partee likens to a “family reunion meets block party meets outdoor mall.” An event the weekend of Feb. 5 and Feb. 6 was held at The Wedge Building, with music, food trucks, raffles and games. Partee estimates it hosted a crowd of over 5,000 attendees.
Partee joined This is Capitalism to share a few tidbits about the adventure. Edited excerpts are below.
GW: Can you tell us about the very first event you threw in 2018?
CP: We were calling it a pop-up shop, or an experimental market [exposition] to get other people to understand what we were doing, and it was amazing. We had 15 vendors in this very small building. The night before, they had a college party and we were cleaning up cigarette butts to make sure that the presentation was good. I’m so glad that we did that because who knows where we would be now? The venue price changed on us a couple of hours before and we didn’t know how to commandeer contracts at the time. But as soon as it started, we had so many people come in and out of the door, and by the end of the day everybody started coming up to say, ‘Thank you. Where are you going to do the next one?’ It has just been growing and growing.
GW: How do vendors and clientele find you?
CP: Some find us through our social media platform, and word of mouth through vendors has been tremendous. Sometimes they do really well at an event, or we make sure that we grant them new opportunities, whether it’s an interview, or they’re featured on the news, or we highlight them. They support other vendors and [get the word out.]
GW: You also teach entrepreneurship workshops. What do Nashville’s young entrepreneurs need most right now?
CP: We don’t see a lot of generational wealth in Nashville so we do a lot of mutual support. We created this as a platform or landing to deal with that. We boost one another up, but also provide them with the opportunity to learn different things through our markets, the companies or vendors that we work with, the sponsors, who help us with overhead, and our partners, who can’t offer money but may offer us their platforms and community engagement. My main focus in these last few years, has been to figure out how to make sure that once they’re finished with our market, we can help them grow.
GW: How does that work?
CP: Even inside the market, we are trying to figure out ways to make it better and make all of us accountable for each other. So we go through steps like ensuring signage is proper or making sure vendors have their business licenses. We make sure that while we’re growing, our vendors are growing as well, and trying to create a platform for entrepreneurs that translates their products and services to the masses. We are also curating a family friendly vibe.
GW: How does taking part in the market impact vendors?
CP: One of our vendors just did an interview with the news and she talked about how her business consistently grew, because she kept coming to the market. She kept hitting the ground running, and she was able to quit her job. She wasn’t able to quit because of the market, but the market was a stepping stone to helping her quit because she gained this huge following.
GW: What is next for the Nashville Black Market?
CP: So much. We’re looking around and want to find a long-term brick-and-mortar space so that we can cut costs down. We’re also about to embark on a retail website so that clients who can’t attend events can still support the vendors by going to our website and shopping there. And eventually, we will be releasing our first book for entrepreneurs.
At a time when finding the right space to sell their goods was both crucial and costly for them, Partee and his partner showed the Greater Nashville community and beyond that, sometimes, it’s okay to reinvent the wheel a little bit. By creating a heavily trafficked roving service that caters to entrepreneurs who might not otherwise have it, they garnered meaningful payback. And now, local spaces like the Nashville farmers market have begun to see their value.