This was my view from the podium at the Strand; the first stop on my book tour in 2016. My book did fine, but was not a life changing success story by any means. Still, I will look back at this moment as one of my finest.
Back when I was planning my book tour, Barnes and Noble wouldn’t book me in NYC. They would only book my New York stop on Long Island. My publisher told me that only “big names” get to do a NYC stop, because people don’t show up in Manhattan otherwise. I was sad about it and asked if she would call the Strand. The Strand is a beloved NYC landmark in the East Village and I’ve been buying books there most of my life. My publisher thought that was an even bigger long shot, but based on me being from the neighborhood, they agreed to do it. The catch was that I had to guarantee I would sell a certain number of books. I agreed, knowing that I would have to buy all those books myself if nobody showed.
I remember being so nervous walking there that night. A bunch of my friends had called to cancel throughout the day and I began to fear that Barnes and Noble was right. I feared I would be speaking to an empty audience, and then on top of that, have to pay a huge bill to underline my failure. So that night, when I looked out into that crowd of both familiar and unfamiliar faces, holding my book up high, it was with the hugest sense of gratitude.
The Strand had given me the opportunity to succeed in NYC and my people had showed up.
Local bookstores are dying right now. The Strand and other shops in NYC have reached out to their patrons for help to keep their businesses afloat during these unprecedented times when foot traffic is so low. This is true across the country. You can help your local book shops by buying from most of them online. You can purchase my book or shop the Strand here.
Full disclosure— there has been some controversy about how The Strand spent their PPE money, so please take this shout-out as a call to action to help the local shops in your neighborhood and other struggling small businesses.
With that in mind, I’d like to highlight a few of my favorite small businesses to shop for the holidays. Some shops are owned by real life friends of mine, some have gifted me products over the years that I love and some I discovered this year, particularly as I was searching for more Black owned businesses to support.
14 Small Businesses to Shop for the Holidays
I discovered Kido Chicago earlier this year when many of my Chicago followers reached out to tell me about Keewa Nurulla, a Black woman who owns the trendy kid shop in the South Loop. Kido sells books, toys, and clothing with a major focus on diversity and inclusion. Nurulla, a fourth-generation entrepreneur whose great-grandfather had a tailor shop on Black Wall Street in Tulsa, says, “Entrepreneurship is my family legacy and very important to me in strengthening our city and the Black community.” Kido is where I bought the VOTE t-shirt that Harlow is wearing in the video where she tells people how to pronounce Kamala Harris.
Joah Love makes the most comfortable and chic masks for kids and adults with adjustable ear loops, and options with built-in necklaces. This is the brand that you see Mazzy and Harlow sport on my Instagram story at all times. After seeing Harlow wear the same splatter paint mask on my story day after day (she refused to wear anything else), Joah Love sent me a whole bunch of additional options with zebra prints, lightening bolts and tie dye, so she could switch things up. The leopard print with the necklace is the one I wear the most!
I met Alex Zagami Ng of Piccoli NY when I first started my blog over ten years ago. This was before she got married or had kids. Even back then, she was dedicated to NYC kiddos and filled her shop with fun games, books and clothing, many with a Manhattan-centric theme. A few years later, she launched her own line of “I Love NY” t-shirts and accessories formed out of iconic NYC foods and symbols. Mazzy even modeled her first collection!
All of Me is an 8-week guided journal with weekly lessons, daily questions to build healthy habits, and free writing space. Heather Connelly came up with the idea for the journals when her daughter Rachel was a tween, because she thought she needed a safe space to learn and grow while she was going through this crucial stage of development. Now, Rachel is grown and they run the company together as a mother-daughter team. Use the code MOMMYSHORTS to get 10% off.
Whalebone Magazine is one of the best designed magazines still standing, as well as a lifestyle brand with a pop-up shop in the West Village and one in Montauk. It was started by good friends of mine, Eddie and Autumn, who happen to be the last people we hung out with in a normal fashion before the pandemic started. The Whalebone aesthetic has a laid back city/surfer vibe and would make an excellent gift for any of your too cool for school friends. You can gift a subscription to their magazine, which has full issues dedicated to topics like travel and Billy Murray, or buy some of their super comfy clothes or other limited items.
The “Kid’s Book About” series was started by Jelani Memory when he realized that parents are deeply in need of ways to open up conversations around difficult topics. The first book was a “A Kids Book about Racism.” Since then, he has gotten several authors on board to write books on their areas of expertise, which introduce topics like depression, climate change, autism, adoption, anxiety, divorce, body image, shame, disabilities, empathy and much more. You can find all the titles by clicking here. It’s also worth noting that the “A Kids Book About” collection was just featured in Oprah’s favorite things! Congrats to them. They deserve it.
Oonaloo is an Etsy shop based in London. She is a “pattern cutter and designer by day, compulsive crafter by night” and uses combinations of African Wax Print fabrics for kids clothing and toys. I am particularly enamored with her colorful jumpers and bowties.
My friend Anne Robin owns a calligraphy company. Her main business used to be wedding invitations, but with that on hold this year, she’s pivoted to some other fun projects, including using her calligraphy to design quotes from Kamala Harris and Ruth Bader Ginsburg on prints and sweatshirts. My personal favorite are her Quaran-tines (rhymes with valentines) that have messages like “I can’t wait to hug you,” “I miss your face,” and “This sucks.”
Crafty Little Dreams is an Etsy shop of miniature food earrings. When Mazzy got into making miniature clay foods last year, we searched the web for inspiration and discovered India Domenque. She’s got everything from hostess cupcake earrings to roasted Thanksgiving turkeys. Now that Harlow’s ears are pierced, I think she may need a pair of pancakes.
Noun New York is a company owned by local artist, Amanda Giuffre. Her prints include major NYC attractions like the Washington Square arch and Grand Central terminal, in addition to well-known restaurants. If you don’t see your favorite on your site (like our favorite pizza place, Joe’s, or our local coffee shop, Mud), you can custom order your own!
Cadence was started by a friend of Allie’s. They are personalized and magnetic capsules meant to replace your typical travel sized bottles, and make it super easy to organize vitamins, lotions and jewelry all in one customized capsule grouping. In addition to being super practical, they are all made from an ocean-bound plastic blend.
Little Miss Party is run by Seri Kertzner, a party planner who is one of my closest friends. The party planning business is another that took a major hit this year, but you can still shop her Party in a Box online! Seri has always specialized in more intimate parties that can be thrown at home, so her boxes are perfect for all the birthday parties and celebrations we are having with just our immediate families this year. They even come with a party blueprint in case you are decor challlenged!
xN Studio is an Etsy shop based in Brooklyn that sells handmade items “blending elements of African-inspired textile design with authentic Brooklyn flare.” They have a bunch of graphic and colorful home decor items like pillows, clay pots and benches. Each item is pictured with a description of where it was made and who it was inspired by, like the Zori pillows created during a batik residency at Kokrobitey Institute in Ghana, where they studied the technique “under the intense instruction of seasoned artisans.”
These are just a few of my favorite small businesses. I hope you enjoy! And feel free to plug your favorite shops in the comments.