August 20, 2020 | Main Spotlight: BIPOC Pop-Up Markets on Alberta Street | By: Abby Armato, Communications Coordinator, NMSC |
Mother-daughter small business, expanding their customer base on Alberta for Jamaican sea moss gel supplements. Photo credit: Maris Yurdana
Many communities across our Network are turning to open streets initiatives to support their local businesses who have had to close their doors or limit capacity due to COVID-19. They provide the increased physical space needed to maintain social distancing while also ensuring that businesses are able to increase the amount of sales they need to stay afloat. Some organizations, such as Alberta Main Street, are taking the concept one step further by using their open streets programming as a tool to champion equitable economic development.
Alberta Street—situated in the heart of a historically-Black district of Portland, Oregon—has been experiencing harsh gentrification for more than 20 years. Alberta Main Street, founded in 2010 and winner of the 2019 Great American Main Street Award, has been working hard to address this issue and help bring Black- and other minority-owned businesses back to their district. When the pandemic emerged, they quickly turned the crisis into an opportunity to support Portland’s communities of color, launching weekly pop-up markets as a way to counteract the gentrifying potential of Portland’s open streets initiative.
Called BIPOC Pop-Ups on Alberta, this weekly market gives street space to micro-enterprises owned by BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and People of Color] vendors who sell handcrafts, art, apparel, and food. The Main Street program plans to continue to expand these weekly events by inviting artists, DJs, musicians, and other performers throughout the rest of the summer.
To achieve honest equity within their open streets program, Main Street Alberta partnered with We All Rise: a grassroots Black and Woman-led consulting firm that specializes in navigating equity- and community-based initiatives. We All Rise works across the Portland metro area to support underserved small businesses, reimagining spaces across neighborhood commercial districts to help BIPOC business owners weather the storm.
Alberta Main Street’s partnership with We All Rise has been critical; co-founder Quincy Brown, a third generation Black Portlander, urban planner, and community activist, has grown up on the very streets of Portland’s Alberta district. Quincy highlights its importance: “It is through collaborative efforts that We All Rise and Alberta Main Street have empowered young, Black and local community members to spearhead community projects. Our efforts have successfully modeled strategies imperative for equity-based healing in historically Black Main Streets. We hope our project can serve as a model for others to continue. It is time we address historical efforts of gentrification and displacement.”
The work happening on Alberta Street is a testament to bringing displaced communities and businesses back. In addition to giving space to established makers and sellers, the BIPOC Pop-Ups also make space for entrepreneurs. Starting their business only a month ago, Beautiful Me Organic Skincare has been a vendor at several of Alberta’s BIPOC Pop-Ups. This business is a family affair, run by a “Black mother teaching her daughters business, entrepreneurship, self-reliance, and self-care.”
Another young entrepreneur at the market is Jaidens Jazzed Out Treatz. With the help of his mother, seven-year-old Jaiden serves up his crowd-pleasing homemade Rice Krispies treats. A market favorite, Jaidens Jazzed Out Treats offers treats that bring smiles to many customers' faces.
“This is really a community driven process, not a city top-down process,” said Lizzy Caston, Community Engagement Manager of Alberta Main Street. “It needs to meet the needs of blocks and the businesses on them and the communities they are in. It can't be cookie cutter.”
Caston emphasized the need to bring all stakeholders to the table—including the Black-owned businesses their new open streets initiative aimed to support. “We really can't have success without making sure that People of Color and other historically marginalized groups are participating and [at the] center of the discussions and decisions. City governments are not always nimble and good at needed community engagement.”
Maris Yurdana, co-founder of We All Rise, emphasized that the work happening on Alberta Street goes far deeper than the pop-up program’s impact alone. “When we prioritize, involve, and celebrate communities who have consistently been left out, we go from mere collaboration to powerful co-creation. This pivot is critical in the healing process of our city. Development is not easy, working in gentrified spaces is not easy; yet our collaboration with Alberta Main Street is taking this moment of crisis to push a step in the right direction.”