Sixty years ago on Dec. 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, that bespectacled Southern seamstress, transferred the modern civil rights movement from its dormant state of literal leaderlessness when she refused to move from her seat.
Her accidental tourism also forced the heads of Southern civil rights counsels to finally acknowledge, include and utilize the skills of countless, nameless women who fed, laundered, saw after, mended, marched alongside and got their asses knocked down with the men and youngsters who had previously been the only assumed movement leaders. They all ultimately arrived at historical non-conclusions, many points of which we still battle today.
Parks’ decision just goes to prove that a tired back woman can still get hard work done once she reconciles — and acts upon — her fatigue. It seems like a long, circuitous and scenic route from Parks’ Birmingham, Alabama, bus seat to a fledgling pop-up shop in a crumbling stretch of Walnut Hills.
However, that dirty little umbilical chord of genetics makes perfect sense because it is a postmodern example of black striving, to a lesser yet more commercial way. Yes, it’s striving that begs for inclusion and visibility in ways different from those unwittingly used by Parks and, later, the braintrust of the movement.
Mortar Cincinnati, as many minority entrepreneurs — resale shop owners, graphic T-shirt designers — throughout Cincinnati already know, is a combination incubator of business ideas, an urban business classroom with practical usage opportunities and what business folks call an “accelerator.”
Brick, Mortar’s original physical companion shop that houses the pop-up shops of entrepreneurs for extended days for them to sell their wares and thereby get practical experience actually running and marketing a business, is located at 1327 Vine St.
I have been to several pop-up shops of friends there in the small, clean, glass-front space. One shop was a combination of District78, Erikka Gray’s Covington vintage and gift resale shop paired with SoapBox Tees, a graphic T-shirt press run by Sun Smith with hat, bag and shirt logos that run toward the politically astute and socially acerbic.
So, two black women getting a chance to shine, make some cash and get some experience broadening their customer base in the newfangled Disney production of Gateway Quarter. The foot traffic of virgins to either business was impressive, and the impulse spending was textbook.
Now Mortar Cincinnati co-founders are trying their hands in Walnut Hills, a land ripe for the development of a drastically changed landscape that is already being beaten, razed and morphed into a young professional’s wet dream of housing, nightlife and shopping.
Their new and temporary home is called Brick 939 and opened Black Friday to much confusion from potential customers, confirmed vendors and those who have previously vended at Brick. There were no times for the post-Thanksgiving sale advertised anywhere within the vast social media sites trumpeting the big event. (Cincinnati.com published a starting time in a brief article more than three weeks ago.)
My brother, an invited vendor and consummate professional, did not even know what time to show up Saturday.
My partner and I were going to check it out Friday, but we stopped to chat with someone coming out who said there were only four vendors inside and the big opening — that was supposed to include food trucks — was lackluster, so we did not bother going in. But we stopped in Saturday afternoon to see my brother and foot traffic had slightly improved, and a few more vendors were inside and set up.
Still, the surrounding Walnut Hills community — those black folks catching the bus right outside Brick 939’s door, the ones ambling in and out of the Bro-Kro across the street and the ones nosey enough to make a special trip to Peeble’s Corner to see what was happening — did not seem to know what was going on in the space.
Situated directly across from the tattered and crowded parking lot of the Bro-Kro (that’s the black Kroger, to you), this “new” Brick pop-up marketplace is a 10,000-square-foot vacuous space that old heads in Walnut Hills remember as a Woolworth’s, then a Salvation Army Thrift Store by the mid-1990s, then, as black ghetto landscapes usually fall, a combination dollar store/wig shop.
Mortar Cincinnati co-founders Allen Woods, Derrick Braziel and William Thomas II certainly are doing the Lord’s work by giving options to all those disenfranchised entrepreneurs of color and those heretofore ostracized from all the mainstream bank funding and inside dealings that have gotten development rolling from Vine Street to Woodburn Avenue back over now to McMillan Avenue.
But across the board, their messaging must be done correctly and with continued professionalism and not shabbily simply because the newish opportunities for brand expansion are only temporary and/or in a long-neglected neighborhood.
Don’t give us short shrift, fellas.
We desire and deserve the same marketing, choices, inventiveness and derring-do you have given and shown to Over-the-Rhine, where getting a space and a chance is now equivalent to being called up to the majors.
I know the holiday season in retail-speak can be a rough one; especially considering many Mortar entrepreneurs are side hustling their wares in between 40-plus-hour jobs and families, and they’re more likely to have lined up Black Friday gigs months ago. And “buy small and local” shoppers were everywhere — especially at the City Flea set up at 21c Museum Hotel, a tremendous annual draw, so y’all were up against it.
But why wait until the very last minute like you did to enlist vendors, then not be specific with important specs like set-up times?
I am neither trying to put a wrinkle in your most excellent ideas, nor is this a public lashing to embarrass or belittle you or somehow spur your funders to call you on the carpet.
This is a black love letter of black empowerment to simply tell you that we, the community, are watching and pulling for all Mortar Cincinnati classes, graduations and future projects because you have birthed a revolutionary idea — inclusion — into fruition.
And we can all see now just how big the table is, how free we are to sit at the place you have set for us. Now please do not blow it, because Rosa Parks, for one, could tell you how important word-of-mouth is during the formation of a revolution. Sometimes what others say about you is all the power there is to wrangle. So, through New Year’s Eve at Brick 939, let’s really see some films in that rear theater you’ve got set up and let’s actually get the arts community in to see what’s hanging in that gallery space.
Be men of your word.
CONTACT KATHY Y. WILSON: [email protected]