Black-owned businesses prepping for Essence Festival crowds

Published: Jun. 29, 2022 at 6:23 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - With Essence Festival 2022 right around the corner, staff at NOLA Braider say they’re seeing more clients in the salon chairs, eager to see the musical acts, panels, and booths over the 4th of July weekend.

“We’ve been getting bookings from all over the place,” manager Morgan Dillon said. “They’re coming into town. They need their hair done. They need some braids. They need a curl, a touch-up when they get here.”

Organizers say Essence Fest typically draws in about 530,000 people, from the concerts in the Superdome to the free events in the Morial Convention Center. And attendees say there’s an extra buzz swirling around this year’s festivities since it’s the first in-person event since 2019 due to COVID-19.

“We want to go too so we are like, ‘Ok we take you early in the morning,’ because we are trying to see all those stars as well,” Dillon said.

Much is the same at Baldwin & Company, a coffee shop/book store gearing up for its first Essence Festival since it opened its doors in 2021.

“We are expecting crowds in and out the day all day,” owner D.J. Johnson said. “We are ready for it, excited for it.”

Johnson and other business leaders say the festival brings in crowds of people eager to patronize the city’s Black-owned stores and restaurants, a lot of which came early.

“As far as Black culture, there is no greater city to celebrate Black culture than New Orleans,” Johnson said. “All the way from the mixture of the Caribbean to the French influence, the Spanish influence, the diversity of cultures and then New Orleans being that hub of being the largest slave port in the United States for so long. It just enriches the different ethnic groups and ethnic backgrounds.”

But with so many small businesses facing challenges with inflation, McHardy’s Chicken & Fixin’ and other Black-owned businesses hope people venture out from the city’s tourist areas and experience all of New Orleans’ Black culture.

“We have more to offer than just the French Quarter,” owner Alvi Anderson-Mogilles said. “We would just only hope that they don’t keep that cluster downtown and allow people to venture out.”

Just outside of her restaurant, Black-owned businesses, community organizations, and entrepreneurs will host HomeFest: The Soul of New Orleans on July 2 from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. Anderson-Mogilles sees it as a way to highlight her neighborhood’s culture that isn’t necessarily being showcased around the festival areas.

Business leaders say it’s not just the support for Black-owned businesses that they are looking forward to but also the camaraderie that comes with Essence Fest.

“I’m excited with my partners that we as Black women get to be in the space with other Black women,” Dierda Meredith said.

Meredith is a producer at The Color Network, a media advocacy group that wants to see more Black, Indigenous, and people of color represented in the film and television industry. She wants to meet other people in her field and see how best to work with those in other industries.

“We do different things but yet we synchronize,” she said. “That’s what’s exciting about meeting all the different women from all the different walks of life.”

Dr. Tia Smith is also eager to use the festival as a way to help launch The Color Network’s projects and make their brand known to people from across the country.

“Women are coming together to seek joy as an act of resistance but also just to show our own humanity,” Smith said. “I think that’s what makes Essence and this weekend so powerful, so fabulous. And I’m so excited and activated.”

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