Black-owned businesses in Boulder County get support and recognition with the help of local entrepreneurs.
By Vicki Martinez
Social media was set ablaze in 2020, as a nation watched live video footage of a Black man ushered into death under an oppressive knee. Reactions varied: shock, sorrow, despair, denial, fear, anger… Reactions spilled into the streets as protesters demanded change. Reactions also spilled from wallets as many consumers made it a priority to support Black-owned businesses.
“In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, the desire to directly support Black-owned businesses grew,” says Aaron Clark, founder and CEO of Equity Solutions in Boulder (a consulting firm that champions diversity, equity and inclusion in our society). Clark, a software developer turned entrepreneur, admits he had difficulty locating Black-owned businesses in Boulder County to patronize and support. He took immediate action, curating a list of Black-owned and co-owned businesses and Black-led firms in Boulder County.
“We started by crowdsourcing the list, encouraging people to share it. It really grew via social media,” says Clark. His Black-owned business list soon captured the interest of Boulder philanthropist, venture capitalist and Foundry Group co-founder Brad Feld. Clark says that once Feld shared it with his expansive network, interest increased exponentially. More Black business owners became aware of Clark’s efforts and reached out so they could be added to the list.
That initial spark of interest has since ignited a fire in the business ecosystem. Feld approached the Boulder Chamber looking for ways he could support Black businesses directly. “[The Chamber] came up with the idea to have Brad Feld sponsor the membership cost for Black-owned businesses for a year,” says Clark. “They asked me to help support that, and we’re currently in the process of making sure all those businesses have their membership active if they want to.”
Launched in March 2021, the Equity Amplification Program (EAP) is one of several new initiatives from the Boulder Chamber. For more information on the EAP, visit boulderchamber.com/equity-amplification-program.
From professional and consultancy services to restaurants, wellness and the arts, Black-owned businesses in Boulder County are an important part of the community and economy. Read on to learn about two such businesses making a difference on a local level: A staple in Boulder real estate for nearly 25 years, and a small store with a big heart for social justice.
Ann Cooper & Associates
Ann Cooper grew up in the deep South in Georgia. “A very segregated community. Blacks on one side, whites on the other,” she recalls. “As a Black child growing up there, I’d never heard of a realtor. People didn’t sell their houses. Families stayed in the same house, passing it down from generation to generation.” So, when a friend told her she should be selling real estate because she loved houses and loved people, Cooper was hesitant. “But she was right. I love it.” Cooper’s advice: “Listen to your friends. Sometimes they see you in a way you don’t see yourself.”
That was in 1997.
Fast forward to 2021. Not only is Cooper well-known in the real estate world, but last year she was one of the top 10 realtors in all of RE/MAX of Boulder.
From the onset of her career, Cooper has never had trouble finding clients. “I’ve always been really involved in the community, serving on boards and committees.” People’s Clinic, Emergency Family Assistance Association and United Way to name a few. While doing that work, Cooper didn’t realize she was building the foundation for her business. “When I started selling real estate, I already had a solid base of people who trusted me.”
With a strong business acumen for negotiation, it’s Cooper’s humility that’s one of her most powerful tools. Before she describes her approach to selling real estate, she pauses, wondering aloud if it will seem trite or cliché. “But I don’t really care,” she laughs, “because it’s the truth.” Her mantra: It’s all about the client.
“I don’t have goals, and I don’t have objectives. That would tie me in to making people do what I need them to do to reach my goals,” she explains. “I don’t ever want to be attached to that.”
But make no mistake—Cooper is not one to back down. “I fight for my clients,” she says. “I’m one of the best negotiators in town. I just do it in a respectable way.”
These days, her reputation precedes her. “Now I’m working with the children of my clients, with the second generation, and those kids refer people to me. It’s the old way of doing business and it’s extremely rewarding,” she says.
With no sign of slowing down anytime soon—currently, Cooper is a board member for both Impact on Education and the Boulder Chamber, and serves as a commissioner for the City of Boulder’s Housing Commission—she still finds time to use her experience to make an impact. “I’m helping younger people of color to work with lenders, make sure their credit is in line and help prepare them for purchasing in the future, to change their economic status by investing in real estate,” she says. “That’s really, really important to me.”
Ann Cooper & Associates
2425 Canyon Blvd., Suite 110
Long-time neighbors and friends from Baltimore, Stephanie Sterling and Julie Benoit found themselves relocated to Boulder County within a year of each other. The two had discussed opening a creative space together, so when a storefront in downtown Longmont suddenly came available, they took it as a sign. “That opportunity presenting itself was a major catalyst,” says Sterling. Pooling their personal savings, the entrepreneurs had enough seed money to fulfill their dream. The doors of Maker General opened to the public in 2018.
“[Our first year], the focus was getting known, getting people in the door,” says Benoit. “2019 was amazing! A restaurant—Tangerine—opened and then a clothing consignment store, drawing a lot more foot traffic. Downtown Longmont was getting really exciting.” Projections for 2020 surpassed all expectations.
Of course, we know what happened in 2020. Despite the setback, Maker General stayed above water. “The only reason we survived was because of the incredible support of our community,” Benoit says. “I think people really appreciate us and they want us here.”
Why was Maker General able to garner such strong support in so little time? “I think we’re really different from other craft stores,” explains Sterling. Not only do they focus on small, independent craft makers, but they also work intentionally to create an inclusive space for makers, as well as customers.
“If you want to consciously spend your money where it counts, we present that opportunity,” says Sterling. “We support makers who are members of the LGBTQIA community, we find people of color who are making things, and we support women in this field.”
“Being an actual brick-and-mortar store,” adds Benoit, “we offer a safe physical space for people from marginalized and under-represented communities. That’s really important to us.”
By stocking items made by diverse crafters and patterns that are size-inclusive (XS up to 4X), plus their own line of cross-stitch kits that feature inspiring people of color—think Stacey Abrams, Frida Kahlo and Prince—Maker General is making a difference.
Sterling says, “We’re just doing our best to represent Longmont and be a part of the craft world in a socially conscious way.”
381 Main St.
Find out about more Black-owned businesses in Boulder County with Equity Solutions’ list, and watch for updates as more businesses are added.