Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses (GRABB) was launched in July of 2013 by lifelong resident Jamiel Robinson to build awareness and give a voice to an underrepresented African-American business community in the greater Grand Rapids area.
In a little over a year, Robinson has garnered plenty of attention from local media such as Grand Rapids Business Journal, Grand Rapids Magazine, and Rapid Growth Media. He was invited by the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, where he gave a speech on the importance of supporting economic development in the Black community. And just recently, Local First honored Robinson with the Local Hero Award.
“We’ve seen a tremendous response from the community, from local leaders, from community foundations- who are all interested in what is coming,” says Robinson.
What started initially with simply creating a business directory that now boasts over a hundred businesses listed, now has evolved to GRABB-facilitated events such as pop-up shops where area business leaders can connect and foster support for one another. Robinson also initiated the 30 Days 30 Dollars challenge, an awareness creating tool praised by “Our Black Year” author Maggie Anderson. The challenge asks participants to pledge to spend 30 dollars over the course of a month on locally owned area Black businesses. The third and most recent challenge saw over a hundred participants with some businesses reporting sales increases of up to 75%.
Robinson is ready to point out that he is not encouraging shoppers to patronize businesses simply because they’re Black owned.
“It’s not about supporting any and every black business. I say find products and services that you value, that you love, that you appreciate and support those businesses,” says Robinson. “I’m not looking for it to be a charitable thing – oh, I went to a black business, I really don’t care for anything I see here but I’ll still spend five dollars- that’s not really sustainable. It’s finding those businesses that you value their products, that you value their services and you continue to go back and develop that relationship with that business until you become a regular customer. That’s sustainability.”
Last Thanksgiving GRABB promoted “Black Market,” a “black Friday before black Friday,” says Robinson. This year he has tweaked the theme to include an awards ceremony for Black business owners on the Friday before Thanksgiving and then encourage shopping the next day on Saturday.
The creation of a website is also under construction, and Robinson hopes to launch it in October. A roll out party showing off the functionality will be arranged at the time of the launch.
Robinson spends his days as a team director of youth development at the downtown YMCA and moonlights as GRABB’s CEO.
“GRABB is like building a house,” says Robinson of the confluence between his day and night jobs. “But if you don’t teach those coming up how to maintain it the house will fall down.”
As a priority on Robinson’s list, he would like to see the development of a Black business district.