When Arnett Woodall proposed building a produce store in West Philly on a vacant lot known only for drug sales, his neighbors scoffed.
"Most people laughed at me," he said. "It used to be the most trafficked destination for coke, crack and heroin in Philadelphia."
Woodall was undaunted by his neighbors' doubts. His West Phillie Produce has been doing business at 63rd and Market streets "for eight years strong, seven days a week, with the youth running the business."
Now, as one of the first business owners to sign up for the iBuyBlack discount card, Woodall is hoping the city will see what a difference black-owned businesses can make in their communities.
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"I’m hoping the iBuyBlack card will help people come in and support the movement. The more people shop, the more I can help youth in my community, and the longer I can keep the dollar in the black community," he said. "If every store hired just one youth from the community, that would make a whole world of difference."
The iBuyBlack card program kicked off earlier this month at City Hall. Designed to stimulate investment in the black community, the iBuyBlack card entitles the cardholder to discounts at participating black-owned businesses around Philadelphia. Discounts range up to 15 percent off for some businesses and free products at others.
At Platinum Grille in Chestnut Hill, cardholders can get a free cup of their famed seafood chowder with an order of more than $10.
"This is introducing those people that haven't been introduced to my soup, and it's also bringing those people in to eat," said owner Rhonda Yancy, who also said she signed up to help create jobs.
"The ultimate goal is to drive business into the community, which allows us to incorporate more jobs," she said. "If we focus on keeping the money in the neighborhood, we can employ those in the neighborhood."
So far about 80 businesses are participating in the program, and 1,500 cards have been sold at $10 apiece by by the Philadelphia Community of Leaders (PCOL), a group of African-American private-sector leaders that organizes such civic events as the Juneteenth celebrations.
They plan to sell some 10,000 more cards, said Earl Harvey, a member of the African American Chamber of Commerce and sales director for the iBuyBlack program.
"It's becoming a diverse movement," he said. "People of all ethnic backgrounds are buying the cards and using them. Some businesses have gotten new customers and they're excited about it."
Growing black-owned businesses won't happen overnight, Harvey acknowledged.
"We're prepared to give this a three-year period to see the kind of response we think it can generate," Harvey said. "This is a long term strategy. This is not a quick fix."