Shop Local KC and Blakk Co. share a building and a purpose to empower the community
An unassuming row of buildings at 3630 Main Street has been transformed, seemingly overnight. Lush murals now cover the Midtown storefront, which thronged with people Friday at the joint ribbon-cutting for Shop Local KC and Blakk Co. Both businesses are dedicated to enhancing the city by creating a space for people to find local goods and build community.
Shop Local KC is home to The Strawberry Swing craft fair’s new brick-and-mortar location and makers’ studio.
Considered to be one of the top indie craft fairs in the world, The Strawberry Swing was conceived by business owner Katie Mabry van Dieren, who co-founded Troost Market Collective. She’s stylish and intentional, and cares deeply for the local maker-oriented perspective and the need for a place to call one’s own.
“When I curate the craft fair, I see it in my mind,” van Dieren says. “I feel like I’m in The Queen’s Gambit when [Elizabeth is] looking at the ceiling. I see tents and makers. I place them [according to] what looks cool together.”
van Dieren is big on the word itself: makers. The term is interchangeable with artist or craftsperson, but perhaps more comprehensive.
“Some people don’t make art; they make functional stuff,” van Dieren laughs, pointing to cocktail kits from Good Bitter Best, the home bartending outfit set up in the studio next door. Dozens of makers have items for sale on the store side; pottery, flowers, jewelry, prints, and food are all available to purchase.
Cafe Cà Phê, Avec Moi Sweets, KC Canning Co., Easy as Pie, and The What Truck—also in attendance at Friday’s ribbon-cutting—added to the atmosphere of supporting local makers. The studio side has one tenant, Good Bitter Best, but will soon be open to more residents.
Blakk Co., a business owned and operated by women of color, shares the Midtown space with Shop Local KC. Its exterior is painted black with modern gold lettering. The lounge’s main objective is to provide men of color with an uplifting, safe destination, as well as a good time.
One might come to Blakk Co. to hang out and watch a game, co-work with other professionals, or host an event. No matter the reason for the visit, co-owners Christina Williams and Tamela Ross want to make sure that men of color have a space of their own where they can feel secure and inspired.
“We support men of color,” says Williams, who gave a tour of the black-and-gold-themed lounge on Friday. “That’s our target audience, but all men are welcome.” A series of planned events will feature discussions by Black artists and authors, as well as VIP comedy experiences.
Williams and Ross are both gracious and warm. The environment they’ve created reflects the conscious nature of their enterprise, which is designed with Kanas City’s Black community in mind. As well as promoting a space for men of color to hang out and co-work, they’re treating the month of June as an opportunity for people to come see the lounge for themselves. Day passes can be purchased here.
Artwork from Black Space Black Art fills up one side of the lounge. Behind the bar hangs a haunting painting of George Floyd and a bleeding American flag—apt commentary for the current state of our union.
“It’s a message,” says Williams. “George Floyd was the first picture. He was the reason Blakk Co. was born.”
Inspired by calls for a change to the current status quo, Williams and Ross decided to shake things up on their own terms.
“We recognized, as women of color, that there wasn’t a safe space where our men could go that wasn’t a nightclub,” Williams says. “[We wanted] a place where they could just breathe, be themselves, and connect with other outstanding men of color in the community.”
Mayor Lucas attended the ribbon cutting for Blakk Co. and Shop Local KC and was enthusiastic about his support for both businesses. “If my day’s been too stressful, you know where to find me,” he said with a grin.
“I want everybody to look at this group,” the Mayor continued, addressing the crowded parking lot. “This is what Kansas City looks like. We’re standing up for women business owners—we’re standing up for Black women business owners. We’re standing up for everybody who is trying to help out and uplift our community.”
Shop Local KC Hours of Operation:
Friday, 12-6 pm
Saturday, 9 am-3 pm
Blakk Co. Hours of Operation:
Tuesday-Thursday, 10 am-9 pm
Friday-Saturday, 10 am-midnight