In the year since it went online, the website that showcases Black-owned businesses has grown from 175 listings to 1,600 organizations from nearly 100 towns and cities across the state, the site’s founder says.

The not-for-profit site now is partnering with Planet Fitness, which has 30 Black-owned locations in Connecticut, to hold a Best of ShopBlackCT Awards in the fall. Organizers hope the initiative will encourage shoppers to spend the summer patronizing Black-owned businesses. 

People can vote for their favorites up to once a day across a variety of categories, including beauty and cosmetics and restaurants. The winners will be recognized at the event. Voting will be open from July 15 to Aug. 30.

Initially inspired by the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, launched July 1, 2020. 

“There is a need and a desire for a list that specifically lists Black-owned businesses because people are looking to support them for different reasons,” said Sarah Thompson, founder of the website. 

There are the specific products and services that the Black community is looking for, but it is also a way the community in general can support people of color, Thompson said. 

“Part of the reason we launched this was because we knew that every business, especially Black-owned businesses, were suffering from the pandemic,” Thompson said. 

She pointed to a report by the National Bureau of Economic Research that found 41% of Black-owned businesses have closed due to COVID-19, compared to 17% of white-owned businesses.  “That speaks volumes of the realities of what Black-owned businesses face in terms of obstacles.”

Thompson said it is amazing to step back and see what entrepreneurs owners on the site have accomplished, especially in light of the pandemic. 

“So many businesses started during 2020, hundreds have launched,” Thompson said. “To see the ingenuity and perseverance that these business owners have shown just blows my mind – whether they were furloughed from their jobs, or one of their businesses slowed down, so they launched a separate business.” 

The website is free for anyone to use, made possible through the efforts of 20 volunteers who write and handle social media updates. The site also features the work of professional photographers and a listing of events and resources. 

Thompson, who leads the site with her friend and colleague Yvette Young, puts in between 10 and 20 hours of work on the site per week.

“When you feel passionate about something it doesn’t feel like work,” Thompson said.  

She added that isn’t just a list. 

“We are trying to foster community and awareness about the social inequities that exist in our country,” Thompson said.