NEW BEDFORD – For 18 years, CÃ©lia’s shop has seen it all, from empty downtown storefronts to Buy black movement. The one part that has never changed: the love mother / daughter co-owners have for their community.
âI feel like our customer service at the boutique is at the concierge level,â said Tanya Alves, co-owner of the boutique, who works alongside her mother and company namesake, Celia Brito.
âIt’s definitely a shopping experience. This is what we are trying to deliver, âadded Brito.
When a customer walks into the boutique at the corner of Pleasant and Williams streets, someone is standing by to offer a warm welcome, help pick a gift, put pieces together, bring items into the walk-in closet, or just simply. to offer a conversation.
âWe want to know who they are,â Brito said.
âMy mom is a social butterfly,â Alves added with a laugh.
Since 2003, Celia’s has been a staple in downtown New Bedford when it opened on Purchase Street in the former Cherry & Webb building.
âThe energy in this building,â Alves said. “It was really nice to be in there.”
The idea to open the store came when Brito was working at Polaroid corporation when it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and was about to close.
Brito knew she needed a back-up plan.
Bringing fashion to working women
Born on Brava Island, Cape Verde’s southernmost island, Brito grew up in New Bedford, lived in Boston for 14 years, then returned to the city. Working in the corporate world, there was a strict dress code in his office.
However, living in New Bedford, Brito said it was a challenge to buy appropriate clothes that might work for going out afterwards as well.
So Brito decided to open a business that brought more suitable clothing to workers in New Bedford.
Alves says she and her family supported Brito’s vision. âShe had a flair for fashion,â Alves said, adding that she remembered growing up and watching her mother keep up to date with the latest fashions, trends and styles.
Alves, who was working in a company at the time, helped his mother when they first opened. âI remember thinking there is nothing in downtown New Bedford,â Alves said with a laugh.
At the time, most businesses had closed in part because the Dartmouth Mall was attracting shoppers. Alves only remembers Elaine’s t-shirts and costumes, a few doors down, and No problem getting ready to open.
âAll the windows were empty,â Brito remembers. “You could open any brick and mortar, if you wanted.”
âFor a while, the businesses around us were revolving doors,â Alves added. “It was really fun, exciting and scary when we first started.”
Be the only black-owned business
âThere was a buzz, at that point, that New Bedford is up and running, and about to be reborn,â Brito said. âWe were hoping that if we invested … then other people, other stores and owners would come and follow suit.
Celia’s Boutique was the only black-owned business operating in the downtown area. Brito and Alves say they didn’t encounter many problems, except for an occasional visitor from out of town asking to speak to a “Caucasian” supervisor and surprised to learn that Brito was the one. owner.
âAs a black woman, I constantly go through this,â Alves said. “Whether it’s silent or not.”
Brito said she believes many black-owned businesses have been bypassed for grants and loans.
According to Federal Reserve, over the past decade, the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, or Person of Color) has received less commercial funding, less often, and at higher interest rates. In fact, 80.2% of white business owners receive at least a percentage of the financing they request from a bank, compared to only 66.4% of BIPOC business owners.
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âMinority companies paid 7.8% [in interest] on average for loans, against 6.4% for non-minority companies, âsays the report. âResearch shows that white-owned startups have an average of $ 18,500 in equity outside of the foundation, compared to just $ 500 for black-owned startups. “
Move to a new location
In 2010, an emphyteutic lease ended at the location of rue des Achats, forcing the store to move. They quickly discovered a convenience store in front of Town hall.
âIt was a great location around the corner. The space was bigger, “Brito said.” It was good. “
Alves says the store attracts a diverse group of customers because their products are aimed at all women, regardless of shape or size.
âOur pieces, I think, are very avant-garde and unique,â ââsaid Alves. “One of a kind. So you’re not going to walk into a department store and see them.”
According to Brito, the items for sale are from the same designers that can be seen in New York City. The boutique also has an established loyalty with designers and representatives to sell exclusively to Celia and nowhere else on the South Coast.
In 2018, Alves quit his job and joined the boutique full-time as a co-owner alongside his mother. âWe’re a typical mother-daughter team, sometimes we accept to disagree,â said Alves. âOverall, we like to work together. We are best friends.
With the support of family, friends, community, and other business owners, Celia’s has made it through the good days and the bad.
âIt definitely takes a village,â says Alves. “We would take it one day at a time, hoping and praying it would work. And it worked.”
Then came COVID-19.
Adapting to the pandemic
âWe were just in shock,â admitted Alves. “That first month or so, we were just trying to figure it all out.”
Celia closed her door for six months. But that didn’t stop the mother-daughter duo from keeping the store alive. âWe grew, reinvented and got creative,â Alves said.
The women posted videos about their merchandise, offered Zoom / FaceTime access to customers, shared photos on social media, and offered door-to-door pickup.
âWe were using all possible platforms,â Brito said.
During the pandemic, most BIPOC companies received little or no government assistance. According to a report by Center for Responsible Lending, in 2020, around 95% of black-owned businesses, 91% of Latino-owned businesses, and 75% of Asian-owned businesses had “almost no chance of receiving a PPP loan through a traditional bank or credit union.
âMany black-owned businesses that met the Trump administration’s arbitrary candidacy requirements were still excluded,â said a USAToday article. As a result, about 40% of small black-owned businesses may never reopen.
Then, on May 25, 2020, the video of Murder of George Floyd by white Minneapolis cop sparked protests and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement as well as conversations about systemic and economic racism.
âIt got people’s attention,â Brito said.
Across the country, people wanted to show their support locally, which started the trend of supporting black-owned businesses.
According to a USAToday article, online sales jumped 225% from what was considered the average for black-owned businesses in a 2019 report.
Strengthening the business community
In June 2020, Justina Perry of New Bedford created an online directory highlighting black-owned businesses on the South Coast. Alves is on the planning committee.
âThere is a history of systemic black oppression, because there is a huge wealth gap, and there is an economic opportunity that is created by organizing in this way with the black community,â said Perry. in a previous interview.
âIn our platform we’re black and proud and shameless about itâ¦ We create this sense of pride about the dark.â
In 2021, BuyBlackNB produced nine vendor pop-ups, which generated over $ 30,000 in total revenue.
âIt’s not a trend, it’s a movement,â Brito said. “It’s not going to go away.”
Brito says BuyBlackNB has brought new people to their store – recently remembering a white woman walking into the store and saying she came to support a black business.
Additionally, Brito said the directory also highlights Cape Verdean-owned businesses Brito and Alves speak Creole, which can be helpful in making their Cape Verdean customers feel more comfortable.
âWe have people here who say they are so happy because they don’t speak English,â Brito said. “And they’ve only been here a few months and needed clothes and stuff.”
Ultimately Brito says he’s thrilled to be a part of the downtown growth and tries to support the community whenever she can. Celia’s Boutique aims to be there for everyone and to make them feel empowered through clothes and accessories.
“You never have to feel intimidated when entering. We’re here to help.” Brito added.
âWe welcome everyone who walks through our doors, because without the doors opening and people entering, we will not survive. “
Standard-Times writer Seth Chitwood can be contacted at [email protected]. Follow him on twitter: @ChitwoodReports. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Standard-Times today.