Move over Yelp, Google, and Trip Advisor, there’s a new directory in town. Green Book of Tampa Bay, a black-owned business directory, helps locals intentionally “put their green into black” by spending money in communities that have historically faced under-investment.
Green Book (not to be confused with the 2018 movie of the same name) pays homage to the Negro Motorist Green Book, which provided a guide of safe places for African Americans to visit or spend money with when traveling through the South in the era of Jim Crow.
Green Book honors that legacy by supporting black people and black communities, through economic means. It is a website directory – like Yelp – of black-owned businesses, searchable by location, name and service category.
Green Book of Tampa Bay founders Hillary Van Dyke and Joshua Bean started the site because they were tired of seeing their students’ lives end in violence and incarceration. The educators, who met while working at Azalea Middle School, a predominantly black school on the west side of St. Petersburg, agreed on one thing: the way to decrease violence is to increase economic vitality.
The idea was to intentionally support black-owned businesses, which was top-of-mind after watching Killer Mike’s television show, Trigger Warning. In the first episode, “Living Black,” Killer Mike tries to live by only spending money with black-owned businesses. Bean said the episode highlighted “the need to improve the circulation of black dollars in the black community.”
But that crystallized to Bean and Van Dyke that there was a serious void in the digital space – there was no one place to find black-owned businesses to support in the first place.
“What we want to do is build that up but also take it a step further. We need white folks to start circulating their dollars in the black community as well,” Bean said.
So catalyzed the creation of Green Book of Tampa Bay, where consumers can find everything from black-owned real estate agents to home improvement services, IT, retail establishments, restaurants and much more. As Green Book has grown, Van Dyke and Bean have also plugged the effort into other economic development drivers in the black community.
Originally comprised mainly of restaurants when it launched more than a year ago, Green Book of Tampa Bay quickly became an all-encompassing, searchable, and dynamic directory of black-owned businesses throughout the Tampa Bay area, thanks in part to a recent facelift provided by the One Community Plan.
One Community, a collaborative group seeking to create a comprehensive economic growth plan for South St. Petersburg, supported Green Book of Tampa Bay’s work as part of its #InThisTogether initiative. The group provided web development services to make the site more user-friendly and better equipped for businesses to have their own individual entries, which owners can claim for free.
The new site allows community members to add missing listings, and business owners who claim their listing can update the business’ information, including social media accounts, hours and website information.
Van Dyke and Bean told the St. Pete Catalyst that the feedback they’ve received from business owners has been overwhelmingly positive.
In this societal moment, the need for investment in black communities is more visible than ever before. That’s why Green Book of Tampa Bay is continuing its long-standing #BuyBlackFridays campaign, which encourages consumers to seek out black-owned businesses – at least one day per week – and post pictures and experiences on social media. The goal is to create a chain reaction.
“We’re not looking to capitalize on this moment,” Van Dyke explained, while acknowledging that there has been an uptick of interest in supporting black-owned local businesses and using the directory. The Green Book of Tampa Bay’s Instagram account has gained hundreds of followers over the last week.
“This started as a conversation of police brutality,” she said, in reference to the worldwide protests that erupted following the death of George Floyd in police custody. “But it has pulled back the veil to show that black people are at the bottom of every system,” Van Dyke explained. “From education, to the economy, to the supposed criminal justice system and beyond, black people are intentionally kept out of prosperity through systemic racist policy.”
In the time of COVID-19, when small businesses were told they would receive dollars from the Paycheck Protection Program, Van Dyke noted that minority and women-owned businesses have in large part been left out of those benefits, despite the fact that they generally own businesses most at risk of losses due to the pandemic – businesses such as restaurants, beauty salons and barbershops, retail, and other service-based industries.
According to a study by the Center for Responsible Lending, up to 90 percent of minority and women-owned businesses were shut out of the PPP process for multiple reasons, including prioritization of clients with established lending relationships with the banks tasked with submitting PPP applications.
Several class-action lawsuits from small business owners have been filed accusing major banks offering the SBA-backed loans, such as Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, of prioritizing larger loan applications to maximize loan-origination fees and profits.
“There’s power in supporting black people and black businesses,” Van Dyke said. “You can share a hashtag or post about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but what’s going to change black lives is money. If you want to see equity in the black community, economic vitality is the route to that. Be intentional about where you spend your money.”
Green Book of Tampa Bay wants to continue to keep its directory free and to begin to provide Green Book merchandise, such as stickers or window clings, to identify black-owned businesses to the community. Green Book of Tampa Bay can take donations via PayPal here.