The Black American Market (BAM) in Potomac Mills is rethinking how retail works and using those new pathways to channel money into the Black community. Their ambitious goal in 2023 is to cycle $1 million into Black American-owned businesses.
After serving in the U.S. Army, BAM CEO Mariah Bailey pursued a degree in psychology at Kentucky State University. She graduated in 2019 and began working as a contractor with the Department of Defense.
“While attending college, I realized that the color of my skin as well as being a young woman were going to restrict what I could do,” says Bailey. “I had a vision to bring change and revolutionize the way I continue my walk to create and live a better life.”
Her experience and her vision led to the creation of a retail space for Black American businesses to have a presence both online and a physical space in Potomac Mills.
BAM soft opened in September 2022 with 10 businesses in the space, and by their grand opening in November 2022, they had tripled the amount of business owners. From September to December 2022, more than $100,000 went into the pockets of small Black-owned businesses.
With a goal of 60 active businesses in the market space, Bailey is always looking for new products and services. If a small business would like to be part of the BAM community, they first undergo a business review to make sure it would be a good fit with the other businesses.
After a two-month trial period, the business owner goes on a month-to-month contract. Vendors pay rent to be in the space, and that also covers the staff needed to run the retail space, stock inventory, and act as cashiers.
“Having a central checkout is one of the key components to the success of Black American Market,” explains Bailey. “We staff the checkout, so the individual businesses do not have to, freeing up more of their time for product development, marketing, and other aspects of running a business. The response has been phenomenal, and while our plan is to provide more exposure for Black American businesses, the products that are offered are for everyone.”
Businesses in the market are typically less than three years old, and many of the brands are seasonal. BAM assists business owners with their development goals and helps them hone their focus.
"The community aspect of BAM is also important for supporting each other’s businesses rather than viewing each other as competition," says Bailey.
In addition to the physical store, shoppers can also purchase products from the online shop. In this space, shoppers can also learn more about the individual business owners and their personal stories that led them to create their products and services. BAM maintains a complete online directory of the businesses they support, including:
apparel and accessories,
business consulting and support,
food and drink,
skin and healthcare,
recreation and entertainment, and
herbal and holistic products.
As this model grows in Prince William County, Bailey and her team have plans to replicate this physical model across the United States. Their ambitious goal is to have 10 more locations in the country within the next five years.
"I chose Prince William County for our first Black American Market because I live here, and I was building my career here,” says Bailey. "We are currently considering locations in Houston and Philadelphia, as well as exploring possibilities in California and Ohio. We’re responding to different requests for new locations."
Ideally, they will have the liberty to design spaces based on each location’s unique needs and to customize the type of products offered based on the customer base in each location.
In addition to opening new locations, Black American Market is in the process of creating an app to connect people with Black American businesses. They hope to launch it in September 2023.
"I thrive on being the vessel behind the brand and making connections with other entrepreneurs and creators," says Bailey. "A big part of the success of BAM is our storytelling. Our marketing team really excels at that, and we think our app will allow more businesses to tell their stories and reach more people and create a buzz about their products, services, and brand. We are excited about the future!"