More than 2 million people use the Atlanta Beltline annually. That’s a lot of potential customers for a small business owner.
“There’s no marketing strategy I could have paid for that would have been equivalent to what they are offering us,” said Terrence Albritton, co-owner of Grady Baby Company & Apparel , an online-company that sells Atlanta-themed clothing.
Albritton’s family-run company is one of the local businesses chosen to sell its goods from colorful shipping containers standing directly on the Beltline’s Eastside and Westside trails. The businesses are participating in the first BeltLine MarketPlace, a pilot program developed by Atlanta Beltline Inc. and The Village Market.
The BeltLine MarketPlace’s mission is to provide affordable commercial space to small Black-owned businesses as well as women-owned and LGBTQ-owned businesses.
Many wealthy investors have snapped up prime real estate along the 22-mile BeltLine corridor and developers are investing billions to construct thousands of multifamily units and massive commercial and retail projects.
Some of the new developments are in historically Black neighborhoods where little investment occurred before the BeltLine’s route came through. The new investments have resulted in rising property taxes, pushing out legacy businesses and residents and limiting opportunities for creating generational wealth for Black families.
“The whole purpose for starting our business was to create generational wealth and create something for my children,” Albritton said. “We have looked at retail locations but with cost of rent and everything else it was just too cost prohibitive for a small business that started in our basement.”
Mayor Andre Dickens acknowledged the difficulties Black business face in Atlanta at a July 13 ribbon cutting for the BeltLine MarketPlace. Standing on a small stage set up under the Freedom Parkway Bridge on the Eastside Trail, he said more than 95% of Atlanta’s Black-owned businesses are sole proprietors. He also quoted a report that said before the pandemic, Black businesses had an average value of less than $60,000. Latinx-owned businesses had an average value of $475,000 while white businesses were valued at more than $650,000.
“That is not just a wealth gap,” Dickens said. “That is a … deep gulch.”
The numbers make clear that building wealth for Black families will not happen if Black businesses cannot thrive in Atlanta, he said. The BeltLine MarketPlace is one way to help advance African American prosperity in Atlanta, he said.
“Small businesses are the backbone of our communities and thriving communities means thriving families and that’s what we’re all about — making sure we have thriving families in the city,” Dickens said.
Clyde Higgs, president and CEO of Atlanta BeltLine Inc., said the BeltLine MarketPlace is one way the city is being “very intentional about making sure that the Beltline is a tool for our entire community.”
Higgs praised Dr. Lakeysha Hallmon, founder and CEO of The Village Market, for her partnership in making the BeltLine MarketPlace a reality. The Village Market connects Black-owned businesses to community partners as a way to tackle racial wealth gap issues.
Hallmon’s vision for the BeltLine MarketPlace includes ensuring local, Black-owned businesses can stay in the communities where they have always been despite surging commercial rents. These businesses deserve to share in the economic prosperity created by the Beltline, she said.
“This is a day that will be inked in the history books that Atlanta got it right, that the community got it right,” Hallmon said. “This is what happens when people get together, they collaborate, they put their genius together for a purpose far greater than all of us.”
There were more than 200 applicants to participate in the BeltLine MarketPlace before the finalists were selected. They will be open on the BeltLine through November.
The BeltLine MarketPlace was supported with a $750,000 grant from the Kendeda Fund.
Businesses participating in the Eastside Trail BeltLine MarketPlace, located under the Freedom Parkway Bridge at 830 Willoughby Way NE
Businesses participating in the Westside Trail BeltLine MarketPlace, located at 1089 Allene Ave. SW