Some minority businesses in Philadelphia not seeing holiday shopping boost

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) — With baby-sized mannequins and festively decorated windows, Buddha Babe lights up the corner of Emlen St. and West Mount Pleasant Avenue in Philadelphia’s West Mount Airy neighborhood.

“Babies inspire hope, joy and love,” said luxury baby boutique owner and founder Tina Dixon Spence.

The brick and mortar store opened in November 2020 after existing online for a few years. And in that time, she’s garnered local awards and international notoriety.

“We were in British Vogue three times,” Spence said.

But Spence has learned that publicity and profit are two different things.

“People think you’re doing so much better than you are,” she said, “because they see you getting these awards and on all these lists and[they think]’Oh, she’s doing great. I don’t have to support them.'”

But for Spence, nothing could be further from the truth.

“This year was the worst year. Sharp decline in sales. Steep drop in store traffic,” she said.

At a time of year when some stores are hitting record sales, Spence has only had 10 customers in the store since Black Friday. It’s a distress echoed by other local Black business owners she communicates with.

“Many of our businesses are run by ourselves,” she said of the economic challenges. According to the African American Chamber of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, black businesses are less likely to get the amount of credit they need to start or run a small business.

This kind of uphill struggle is why Visit Philly is trying to give black and brown businesses a boost. The city of Philadelphia has declared Black Business Friday a shop every Friday in December, and Visit Philly has compiled a list of black and brown-owned businesses to support on its website.

This list includes Buddha Babe, which carries hand-sewn rompers, pants, onesies, blankets, and bibs. Spence learned to sew, first making the bibs and then expanding into other items including customers’ first choice for a made-to-measure blanket, available in three sizes, and one of her favorite choices: rompers.

“They’re so cheeky,” she said of the tiny onesie, which was adorned with a silhouette of the Philadelphia skyline. The store carries many items with a Philadelphia flair, including their exclusive print, including Philadelphia icons like the love state and of course a pretzel.

There are also items for adults.

“We have soaps, bath salts, body oils,” she said, noting that the items are from local creators.

The boutique also hosts sewing classes for children and adults, as well as birthday parties.

“We have an after-school sewing club,” Spence said of the sewing options, which include summer camp and sewing classes on non-school days.

She had to turn around several times to find the inventory and operation that works best. Another pivot could be coming soon, as she will stop selling in-store on December 22 to reassess her business model and decide if she wants to continue running a brick-and-mortar store. Meanwhile, Buddah Babe is open for the holidays. Spence couldn’t think of a more perfect gift than a few new clients.

“We built it,” she said, “and now you have to come.”

The opening hours of Buddha Babe are as follows:

Monday-Wednesday: 10am-6pm

Thursday: 9am-2pm

Friday & Saturday: 10am-6pm

More information:

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