Carole Watson is spirited. She'll tell you it doesn't take a lot to make her happy. One thing that fills her with joy and laughter is seeing locally owned black businesses flourish. While Detroit is seeing a renaissance, not all shop owners are thriving. She started a local collective called Us Too Detroit that's helping promote those businesses. She chatted with us about her mission.
Metro Times: How did Us Too Detroit get started?
Carole Watson: In my head. (laughs) It really was just an idea that popped in my head because I saw how the black entrepreneurs in this city were really struggling. A lot of times, they weren't getting business because people didn't know they existed. So I decided that I would advertise for them. And so for a basic thesis for us to say, "Here are businesses that are quality businesses, and I need you to think about that and think about us too, when you get ready to spend your money." And so, ergo, that was what is was. Think about us too, when you're getting ready to make purchases.
MT: And what is Us Too? Is it a collective? Is it a nonprofit? Is it a business?
Watson: You know, we don't even have a name for it. When I do things, I always call a group of friends. And so, that's really what it is. We don't make money. That's not the objective.
MT: What are some of Us Too Detroit's objectives?
Watson: What I thought was, what if I got together a "black Yellow Pages" that was online. If we have it online, this could help the businesses, because they might look for a plumber, or they might look for a boutique, or for gardening supplies? Because it doesn't make sense for the economy to come back and then we fail when we worked so hard. And many of them, from boutiques and things, are ones who really work hard.
MT: How can a business owner have their business listed in these "black Yellow pages"?
Watson: They can just go to the Us Too Detroit Facebook page or they can call me at 313-656-4228. What I'm trying to do now, as the names come on our system, I've tried to visit, just do a look-through and introduce myself, just to have a sense of the kind of business. Now, there's going to be a time, hopefully, that I won't have time to go to every business. My dream is that people will refer businesses to us that they know are doing a good job. Some of these businesses are just having such a hard time. And not having capital to be able to advertise really makes it difficult. A lot of them are just trying to pay their light bill and the gas bill. There's no money for advertising, and so we figured if we keep hitting social media that it wouldn't cost us anything, it wouldn't cost the people anything, basically. And the little bit that it costs, the group would pay for that. We have no problem with that. We just want people to do well because the city is growing so much, and it's like we're getting pushed out. There's no space for us. And I don't understand how things can grow — and we've been holding out — and now when it starts to get better, we're kind of getting left out. And that's kind of painful. It really is painful for me.
MT: One of the things you're doing for the black business community are these crawls. How many black business crawls have you done so far?
Watson: We've only done one, because we just started in January. We're babies. We did the one in April, and we will do one a month on the third Saturday of each month. And it was really quite successful. People who went were very, very pleased. And we have a little yellow school bus from Safeway Transportation and that company is also owned by a black woman.
MT: When's the next crawl?
Watson: The next one is May 16 and we are going to stop at Offin Rivers, which is on Woodward and then we'll drop back into lower Midtown, which would be below Canfield. And then we end up in Harmonie Park, because there are quite a few little businesses down there, black businesses. We're trying to set up another crawl for upper Midtown, which will take us beyond Canfield. And then we're going to Southwest Detroit, and so we're actually trying to traverse the city with our little yellow school bus. It is just great, and people have such a good feeling about it. And they're positive, they're so positive about what they're trying to do. And they want to help, and this is their way of helping.
Alysa Offman is associate editor of the Detroit Metro Times.