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Shop for Good: How you can support businesses owned by people of color, women and veterans

Meredith Fennema

Do you shop at places that align with your values? One Grand Rapids woman is trying to make it easier for you to do so with an electronic directory of businesses that are owned by women, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, veterans, Asian-Pacific Americans, and Native Americans.
When Meredith Fennema first heard a presentation from the Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses that focused on the need for the community to invest in black-owned companies, the Calvin College graduate immediately began to think: What could she do to support this? What could she do to support business owners of color, who often face overwhelming barriers to economic opportunity in Grand Rapids?
 
To answer this, she began to draw on her own experience.
 
“I realized there’s a lot of time and effort that goes into finding businesses that align with my values,” Fennema says. “I would want to find businesses that aligned with my values, but it would be so time consuming that I would stop trying as hard as I should have. So, last summer I started thinking about what sort of platform could connect these businesses with consumers?”
 
That question led her to create the website she just launched: The Shop for Good, an electronic directory of businesses that are owned by women, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, veterans, Asian-Pacific Americans, and Native Americans. Additionally, it includes companies that are green certified. Currently, the site has just over 10,000 businesses from throughout Michigan, with approximately 1,000 listings in West Michigan. She’s quickly adding to the site, and by this summer Fennema expects to have directories for the entire country.
 
“I always considered myself to be a feminist, and, for me, there are certain ways that I believe in really supporting efforts for more equitable economies,” Fennema says, explaining her inspiration for The Shop for Good.
 
To compile the businesses, Fennema uses data from federal, state and local government agencies. Because she’s doing this on a national level, and is verifying ownership through public sources, she stresses that her directory is “an extension of what an organization like GRABB is doing” with the organization’s hyper-local directory that features about 150 black-owned businesses in the Grand Rapids area. (For example, because GRABB knows the owners of the businesses, the group does not need to verify ownership through public data and can include businesses that Fennema might miss.)
 
So far, this has been an entirely passion-driven project; Fennema hasn’t made any money off of it (she previously worked at the Grand Rapids Community Foundation and now freelances to pay the bills) and isn’t expecting to make much from it anytime soon. For Fennema, the days and nights she has dedicated to launching this directory is about providing a resource that she hopes will help to inspire systemic change: that people will use their purchase power to support business owners who have long been marginalized and create a far more equitable Grand Rapids -- and United States of America.
 
“As I was putting together this database, I felt this new sense of urgency following the election,” says Fennema, a life-long Grand Rapidian who majored in political science and business communication at Calvin College. “I thought, ‘We need to get something up there. It won’t be perfect right away, but we need it.’”
 
The push to support businesses owned by individuals who have long been disenfranchised and who frequently face significant barriers to not just owning their own companies but being employed in general, Fennema stresses, is crucial in Grand Rapids. For example, people of color have discussed at length the racism they will face when attempting to start their own business, including not being able to access capital. These issues were placed center-stage last year, when Grand Rapids was named one of the worst cities for African Americans when it comes to accessing economic opportunity. Last year, Forbes ranked Grand Rapids as the second worst city in the country for African Americans, second only to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As we noted in a recent article covering GRABB’s recent #TheShift Summit, an event that aimed to support and grow the Black business community, just 5 percent of the approximate 16,000 businesses in Kent County are owned by individuals who are Black.

Supporting business owners of color also translates to a far stronger economy in general, with Michigan State University's Julian Samora Research Institute pointing out that minority-owned businesses are crucial sources of job growth and are more likely to hire other minorities and women than non-minority-owned businesses -- something that can make a huge change in an economy where minorities face overwhelming rates of unemployment. For example, the unemployment rate for the predominantly Hispanic community around South Division in the Burton Heights area climbs to as high as 24 percent, according to statistics from the Johnson Center of Philanthropy. And in predominantly Black neighborhoods in Grand Rapids, the unemployment rate hovers around 53 percent, GRABB reported.

Veterans too face higher rates of unemployment than non-veterans in our community, with Access Kent reporting that, in 2010, Michigan had the highest unemployment rate for post-Sept. 11 veterans, at 29.4 percent. In 2013, the overall veteran unemployment rate in Michigan was 10.6 percent, which was the second highest in the United States, according to the  Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency.

“I think within Grand Rapids, people are recognizing there’s a need for economic investment in different types of businesses,” Fennema says. “I hope that by providing another directory that has a wide variety of listings, it helps people move from talking to action. I think there’s a lot of good work to be celebrated and great businesses to be celebrated, and the more we can put those businesses in front of people, the greater success those businesses will have and the greater ability people will have to live out their values.”

Anissa and Jermale Eddie, owners of Malamiah Juice Bar. Photo by Adam Bird


Here in Grand Rapids, residents will be connected with a diverse group of businesses through Fennema’s directory, including: Daddy’s Pete’s BBQ, Malamiah Juice Bar, Jose’s Restaurante, Rock Paper Scissors Consignment Boutique, Burton Heights Foodland, Baali African Hair Braiding, and much more.
 
Not only is she hopeful that it will lead to changes in customers’ purchasing patterns, but Fennema says she would be “very excited” to see business owners increasingly linking arms with one another.
 
“It would be very exciting to see at a more hyperlocal level intersectional movements of businesses joining together,” she says. “To have women-owned businesses aligning with African American-owned businesses, for example, with the idea of joining together as this force for social and environmental good. In my wildest dreams, that could shift the way our economic motivators work.”
 
For more information about The Shop For Good, including to access its directories, you can visit its website. You can also follow it on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. To contact Fennema directly, you can email  meredith@theshopforgood.com.
 
For additional directories, you can check out GRABB (and more info from GRABB here), the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the West Michigan Chamber Coalition (which has a list of women- and minority-owned businesses).
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