As a travel writer, most of the year I’m on the move. Boarding a plane at 5 a.m., checking out a new resort, restaurant hopping in a small town, taking in an exhibit in a museum—it’s all business … and pleasure.
But for most people, travel is usually for business or pleasure, the two rarely coming together. So when I saw a recent article published by the folks at Thumbtack (www.thumbtack.com), a company that works to transform local commerce for small businesses and independent professionals, naming the 10 friendliest cities in the U.S. for Black-owned small businesses, I just knew I had to tie the two together.
In Thumbtack’s annual Small Business Friendliness Survey, based on responses from 18,000 small business owners nationwide, 1,663 business owners popped up who self-identified as Black or African-American. And they took this, coupled with the steady increase of Black-owned businesses over the past several years, to ponder the question: Which cities are doing relatively well by their Black-owned small businesses and where are these businesses finding success?
As we all know, strong businesses is just one aspect of what makes a city great, So I’ve delved into Thumbtack’s top 10 and added an Afrocentric “pleasure spot” to each that you might consider the next, or first time, you visit that destination.
Comprising approximately six square miles of central east Austin, Austin’s African-American Cultural Heritage District offers visitors an opportunity to embark upon bus, walking and/or cycling tours to explore numerous sites of national, regional and local historic significance related to African-Americans and others who played important roles in Austin’s cultural landscape. 512-505-8738, www.aachd.org
Founded in 1976, the Dallas Black Dance Theatre is Dallas’ oldest continuously operating dance company. Located at the eastern end of the thriving downtown Dallas Arts District, the theater is credited with training and hosting some of the pre-eminent performers and teachers in America, including Alvin Ailey, Elisa Monte, David Parsons, Robert Battle, Chuck Davis, Talley Beatty, Donald Byrd, Donald McKayle, Ralph Lemon and Alonzo King, just to name a few. Today, visitors will find a diverse, multi-ethnic troupe of dancers performing for audiences of all ages and backgrounds. 214-871-2376, www.dbdt.com
Opened to the public in 1988, the National Afro-American Museum & Cultural Center (in nearby Wilberforce) is one of the nation’s largest collections of Afro-American materials. Visitors here will find an astounding 9,000 artifacts coupled with thousands of photographs, over 300 manuscripts and a great deal more that shares the history, significance and lasting legacy of the African-American experience in this country.
West Palm Beach, Fla.
If you want to get your eat on while in West Palm Beach, tempt your taste buds at any number of delicious soul food restaurants, including Curly’s Caribbean Flava, whose fans love their sumptuous portions of brown stew chicken with peas and rice and cabbage (561-434-7077, www.facebook.com/Curlys-caribbean-flava-229605997079645); Seafood Soul for their amazing Shrimp Creole and Mac & Cheese (561-837-9004); and Bay Bay’s Chicken & Waffles, whose dishes are based around both classic and unique made-to-order Southern recipes with multicultural influences (two locations, 561-429-3796, www.baybays.com).
Embark upon a somber yet enlightening journey chronicling the history of the African slave trade in Virginia until 1775 along the Richmond Slave Trail, which highlights the significant stories behind First African Baptist Church, Lumpkin’s Slave Jail, the auction houses in Shockoe Bottom, and Manchester Docks, among other sites. 804.646.1795, www.richmondgov.com/CommissionSlaveTrail
Virginia Beach, Va.
Every August, the city of Virginia Beach proudly hosts the Africana Virginia Beach African-American Festival. The annual event includes a Caribbean Family Reunion featuring outstanding culinary dishes set against the backdrop of some of the best local roots reggae, soca, calypso and classic reggae performances, as well as an Oceanfront Day Beach Party, where folks can groove to their favorite jazz, hip-hop and classic soul jams while frolicking in the sand and surf. http://africanavirginiabeach.com
Kansas City, Mo.
1920s and ’30s jazz is still alive and well here in the Historic 18th & Vine Jazz District (816-474-8463, http://18thandvinedistrict.org), where, back in the day, venerable musicians such as Charlie “Bird” Parker, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald and Big Joe Turner graced the jazz club stages. Current jazz hotspots in the district include the Mutual Musicians Foundation (816-471-5212, http://mutualmusiciansfoundation.org), distinguished as “the longest running jazz place in the world,” and the Blue Room, located inside the American Jazz Museum (816-474-8463, www.americanjazzmuseum.org).
Opened in 2003, the Civil Rights Collection of the Nashville Public Library is one of the finest collections of civil rights history in the country. Here you will find over 100 significant milestones in Civil Rights Movement history featured in timelines covering both local and national events, a glass-enclosed documentary screening area and more in a gorgeous, state-of-the-art room designed to capture the drama and history of the 1950s and 1960s civil rights history. www.library.nashville.org/civilrights/home.html
Black history comes to life along Florida’s Black Heritage Trail. Here you can learn about American Beach, Florida’s first African-American resort community, Clara White Mission, founded by a former slave and in operation for over 100 years; and Kingsley Plantation, Jacksonville’s oldest residential home and Florida’s last still-standing plantation home, among other historic sites. http://onlyinjax.com/history/the-path-is-bright-along-floridas-black-heritage-trail
Originally opening as the Black Heritage Park in 1989, today’s African-American Heritage Preservation Cultural Complex features a wide array of exhibits and collections extolling the rich African-American heritage. Some of the more distinguished include the first African-American patrolman of N.C., the National Education Association and the African-American Folk Music collections. 919-250-9336, www.aaccmuseum.com
To read more about the Thumbtack study, visit www.thumbtack.com/blog/smb.
Lysa Allman Baldwin is a freelance writer and the publisher and editor of Amazing Escapades, offering “adventures for the mind, bod and belly” (www.amazingescapades.com).