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More Black women are opening businesses in downtown Syracuse

Clothing sits on tables and on racks in a small area with three women perusing the aisles.
Katie Zilcosky
The Black Citizen's Brigade opened in Bank Alley in late 2022.

A new surveyfrom the Downtown Committee of Syracuse shows that an increasing number of Black women are opening businesses in downtown Syracuse. More than half of the new businesses last year were women owned, and a quarter of those were Black women.

Heather Schroeder is the Downtown Committee’s deputy director and director of economic development. She said supports like the Salt City Market and other Black entrepreneurs have helped the growth.

"The CNY Community Foundation had the Black Equity and Excellence grant fund. One of our downtown entrepreneurs, Caeresa Richardson, who ran Ecodessa retail shop, applied for that funding and was successful with it," Schroeder said. "And [she] used her grant to create a program of mentorship and seed grants for other Black-owned businesses."

One of the business owners who received support from this grant is Cjala Surratt. She opened the Black Citizen’s Brigade in Bank Alley in late 2022. She curates and sells vintage clothing, specializing in items that share the histories and stories of the Black community.

"There's been there's a lot of resources, which I think is wonderful," Surratt said. "But I feel like I'm part of a larger conversation. I feel like I'm living into manifesting something that came before me standing on the shoulders of others. I know that sounds really cliché, but I feel really deeply about that."

Surratt said the help of Richardson was integral in bringing her store to life. She's also leaned on other Black women business owners for advice and guidance through her journey, like the owner of 210 Teas, Kahssia Hills.

But despite a growing community of support, Schroeder said women and people of color are still facing challenges in entrepreneurship downtown.

"It's worth noting that the average business owned by a white man in downtown Syracuse has been open for 18 years, whereas the average woman owned business has been open for five years," Schroeder said. "And on average, businesses owned by people of color have been open for two years. So, you know, it's looking at historic opportunities."

Schroeder said access to startup funding remains one of the biggest barriers.

Katie Zilcosky is WAER’s All Things Considered host and features reporter. She also co-hosts WAER’s public affairs show Syracuse Speaks. As a reporter, she focuses on technology, economy, and identity.