Buying Black

Oak Park couple goes out of their way to only support African-American economy

By Matt Bartosik
|  Monday, Mar 9, 2009  |  Updated 8:45 AM CDT
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Buying Black

An Oak Park couple is taking their convictions to the store by shopping at only black-owned businesses for the year.

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Many Chicagoans might have a favorite grocery store or local restaurant that they prefer to support. But Maggie and John Anderson, of Oak Park, travel over a dozen miles to visit the establishments of their choice: Black-owned businesses.

The married couple is taking part in what they call the "Ebony Experiment," spending their money for one year exclusively at businesses owned by African-Americans.

"More than anything, this is a learning thing," Maggie Anderson, who holds a law degree and an MBA from the University of Chicago, told the Chicago Tribune. "We know it's controversial, and we knew that coming in."

Underprivileged communities have been hit hard by the troubled economy, and the Andersons believe that supporting disadvantaged Black businesses will help the neighborhood bounce back.

The project "is an academic test about how to reinvest in an underserved community," said John Anderson, a financial adviser with an MBA from Northwestern University. "When a thriving African-American or urban community is realized, certainly as a society as a whole, we all win."

Finding businesses that meet the criteria hasn't always been easy though, sometimes requiring weeks of searching. In their "adventure in local geography," the Andersons have managed to successfully patronize Black-owned businesses for everything from their dry-cleaning to grocery stores to fast-food dining. The couple has even moved their personal bank accounts.

Lawrence Hamer, associate professor of marketing at DePaul University, has commended their efforts but said that two people by themselves can't make a dent in something as big as the economic problem.

"It's just so hard for a small group of individuals to have an impact on something that's so huge," he said. "It's almost like a viral marketing campaign. It only works if enough people catch the virus."

The Andersons have created a website to detail their campaign: http://www.ebonyexperiment.com/

Matt Bartosik, editor of Off the Rocks' next issue and "between blogs" blogger, supports local digs when he can.

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