KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — To find somewhere local to eat, to shop, to find auto repair or health care can be a daunting task if you don’t know where to start.
Add to that search the ability to find minority and Black-owned local businesses and until October 2020, there wasn’t a specific option for Knoxville-based businesses.
“If you have decided to do something different, then spend a portion of your money with a Black-owned business. It’s local, that money stays local, and it supports the local economy,” said Damon Rawls, Principal Digital Strategist for Damon Rawls Consulting.
Rawls said he was inspired to create the “21st Century” database through his own experience. He wanted to find a Black-owned business and realized there wasn’t a way to easily find one for what he needed.
What he did know: Black and minority business owners with local services that, he believed, should be highlighted. So, in October 2020, months into the COVID-19 pandemic, he created the website and directory to help.
“We’re seeing large companies fold today. Smaller companies are more susceptible are going under in this environment. One of the main purposes is to help these businesses grow and help these businesses prosper,” said Rawls.
Rawls’ background in marketing is on display in the website design. It is user-friendly and offers 27 categories of services. The categories range from restaurants to legal services, to pet services, and stores.
Web Exclusive: Conversation with Knox Upholstery owner on new directory
Rachel Fletcher is the owner of Knox Upholstery and, for the last 11 years, has “made your furniture better,” she said.
“I take your chair, I take off all the padding, take off all the padding, and put new life on it,” said Fletcher.
Fletcher said she is proud of the work she does not just in her business, but for representation within the community, too.
“It was important to register on the website because A. I’m a Black person, but also B., we need more exposure,” said Fletcher.
She said she wanted to support the directory by getting involved and posting her contact and business information on it, as one of the first. The pandemic has been a boost for her business, she said since more people are at home.
“It’s been really really good, the pandemic, because it forced everyone home, they’re looking at their furniture and sitting on their chairs and furniture more…” said Fletcher.
‘It changed my business’: Why business owners want in
The storefront opened in November 2020, following three years of success in an online store through Poshmark and Etsy.
Holloway, an Austin-East High School graduate, said she hopes the store can become a place for young adults in the community for prom or school dances to find upscale clothes for less. It’s one way, she said, she wants to give back to the community.
“I am a third-generation graduate of Austin-East, so spring’s coming up, hopefully, this coronavirus [pandemic] will get under control and they’ll be able to have a proper prom,” said Holloway.
She started her business by selling children’s clothes that her own kids grew out of, then clothes of her own that she no longer wore. It evolved into the storefront on Magnolia Avenue in Knoxville.
She joined the Black Business Directory to put her store in a place that was easily accessible for the community.
“You’re not only helping me and my family, I’m a single mother with five kids, I’m paying rent here at my shop, I’m paying rent at my home. I’m giving back to people you know,” said Holloway.
Holloway said as her business grows, she plans to give back even more. Right now, she said she wants to support the communities that have done the same for her: Austin-East High School and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She is an alumna of both schools.
“People know that women-owned businesses, Black-owned business, don’t necessarily have the resources that larger businesses do,” said Holloway.
There is no sign to mark her store at 2131 Magnolia Avenue, but she is hopeful, her name on the directory will be enough, for now.