Mary Blackford, founder of a community marketplace called Market 7, is the grand prize winner of the Build Your Legacy Contest and recipient of a US$150,000 grant. Blackford plans to use the grant to help fund the market’s new food hall and expand sustainable commerce in Ward 7 of Washington D.C.
“It’s really a win for all of Ward 7,” Blackford tells Food Tank. “I tell everybody, when you invest in Market 7, you’re investing into a group of businesses…it’s building out space in our marketplace that will be home to several new Black-owned businesses.”
The Build Your Legacy contest, which was launched by ESSENCE and Pine-sol and attracted more than 600 entrants, highlights and invests in Black women entrepreneurs. “Traditionally it’s been very hard for Black people to finance our businesses,” Blackford tells Food Tank. “This contest worked to alleviate that disparity and really invest in Black women in a way that we don’t typically see.”
After a trip to Ghana, Blackford was inspired by markets practicing cooperative economics and founded Market 7 in 2017. She hoped it would help address local food and economic insecurity in Ward 7, where just two full-service grocery stores serve almost 80,000 residents.
Today, the market is home to 60 Black-owned businesses and 90 percent are owned by women, says Blackford. Market 7 works as an alternative to current food and retail options in the area. It provides pop-up stalls for the different businesses to offer fresh food, lifestyle products, and home items.
“I think that [the market] has been quite transformational for our Ward because it dispels this myth that communities over the river can’t afford or just aren’t attracted to businesses,” Blackford tells Food Tank.
Blackford says the Build Your Legacy grand prize will help fund Market 7’s move to a new food hall, Benning Market. Slated to open in 2021, the food hall will provide Market 7 with a 7,000 square-foot space that will include a community grocery store and several food stalls, representing culinary favorites from across the Diaspora.
Blackford hopes the new food hall will allow Market 7 to reduce the barrier of entry for small businesses that may be unable to afford their own storefronts.
Additionally, Market 7 will provide other services to help businesses thrive. Training partnerships with companies such as Google will help business owners grow their online presence and develop technological skills. These systems of support and technical assistance are essential to build sustainable commerce into a community, says Blackford.
Blackford hopes the Market 7 model–building out spaces where multiple businesses can collectively offer commerce options–will serve as a blueprint for other organizations going forward. “I think this is going to be a new model that [can go where] people really need more innovation around food and retail deserts within the community,” Blackford tells Food Tank.
“Market 7 has brought attention to small business communities and how they can really provide market-based solutions to systemic community problems,” says Blackford. “We are building strong businesses that essentially are going to build a sustainable community.”
Photo courtesy of Market 7