How founders of Phoenix's Archwood Exchange created hub for Black-owned businesses on Roosevelt Row

The Archwood Exchange Team

Georgann Yara
Special for the Arizona Business Gazette

It’s a pay-it-forward enterprise for which its creators aren’t getting paid. At least not in big bucks.

When business owner Henry Dickerson founded Archwood Exchange with his wife Shalonda Hunt and their husband-and-wife friends Ali Nervis and Stacy Best-Nervis in 2016, they did with the mission to create a hub for Black businesses in Phoenix. All entrepreneurs, the foursome wanted to to open a retail spot that focused on selling wares made by Black-owned companies.

Dickerson and Hunt first got the idea when visiting Houston and discovered the Buy Black Houston group. At the time, Dickerson was running his first business — a clothing line targeted for the Black community — and Hunt ran a mobile hair service company. Finding a local audience for his products was difficult. Starting something similar to the Houston group would make it easier.

The two couples run four downtown Phoenix businesses among them: Grassrootz Bookstore; Stardust & Sage; Brownstone Spa; and Straw & Wool, Dickerson and Nervis’ dapper and eclectic hat shop — all of which got their start with Archwood and its twice-monthly Buy Black Marketplace on Roosevelt Row. 

Revenue from their individual businesses makes Archwood and the Marketplace possible. 

“I have not made a dime from it. It’s all paid from our own pockets,” Dickerson said. “It’s a labor of love but at the same time it allowed us to gain a lot of experience for our own businesses as well. We’re paying it forward and it’s going on from there.” 

What started with an average of 12 vendors at a monthly pop-up now attracts 30-40 vendors twice a month, Dickerson said. From time to time, it features non-Black vendors whose products are culturally relevant to Archwood consumers. 

Archwood and the Marketplace’s success was fueled by both couples launching their popular Buy Black Arizona Facebook group. With 2,600 members and counting, the group was created to empower the local community by collaborating on ideas and solutions to support Black businesses together.

Janet Swan, of Garden with Janet, middle, sells plants at the Buy Black Marketplace hosted by Archwood Exchange on Roosevelt Row in Phoenix on March 19, 2022.

Facebook and Instagram provided the advertising and visibility the small businesses needed, especially during the thick of the pandemic. It allowed Archwood to conduct live virtual markets while it invited businesses that sold hand sanitizers, masks, health products and other in-demand items. 

“It’s been the lifeblood on a few levels. We were able to reach the masses, let them know where and when it’s going on and continue our contact with the public,” Dickerson said. “Facebook and Instagram were the perfect tools to showcase that.” 

Archwood is part of a Black- or African American-owned business community in the U.S. that generated $133.7 billion in 2019, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2020 Annual Business Survey. 

It also helps power a trend that had on average 380 out of every 100,000 Black adults becoming new entrepreneurs during the 2020 pandemic, an increase over the previous two years, according to the Kauffman Foundation. 

Archwood made it possible for Monyea Gandy and her husband Carlyle Haynes to grow their 5-year-old Avondale-based accessory business, Created by DVO, ever since it became a Marketplace regular vendor in 2019. 

Jocelyn Masese, front left, points to a book for Gisella Anderson, front right, at the Grassrootz Bookstore booth at the Buy Black Marketplace hosted by Archwood Exchange on Roosevelt Row in Phoenix on March 19, 2022.

Gandy attributed much of their success to Archwood and the community that it’s created by giving her and her husband a steady place to sell and a natural audience for their handmade beaded wares.

“There is something for everybody and it’s definitely a hub that the community knows about,” Gandy said. “We appreciate Archwood and are truly grateful for having this community event for Black business owners to break out.”

About four years ago, Jasaund Emanuel just happened to spot the Marketplace on a Saturday afternoon. He was immediately drawn to the energy there and didn’t want to leave. 

Since then, he’s purchased items from 50 different Archwood vendors. He also helps to set up, clean up and get the word out about the Marketplace. 

“For Black people in Phoenix, which is such a spread out city, to be able to get together in one space and do something of substance is sometimes rare,” said Emanuel, a marketing specialist and DJ based in Phoenix, who likened Archwood’s mission to a recreation of Black Wall Street in Tulsa. “To be around people who shared my vision and were putting it into action was something I knew I had to be part of.” 

“It’s a bedrock and launching pad for Black businesses that are graduating from being in a tent to being in a brick-and-mortar or having a sustained online presence,” Emanuel said. “It’s a tremendous service they are doing for the community and it’s absolutely vital.” 

Six years after Dickerson and his Archwood co-founders launched their regular Marketplace event, they’ve been an integral part of several success stories. 

Island Sensation Cuisine, a Caribbean restaurant, has gone on to have its own standalone location, and Vintage Oats, a granola company that can now be found on grocery store shelves, are among the vendors for which Archwood served as a springboard. 

“To see these businesses make their first dollar or launch their idea is the most satisfying of this whole thing,” Dickerson said. 

Expanding beyond the marketplace 

Beyond Archwood, Dickerson’s crew has created a steady block of black-owned businesses on Roosevelt. It’s become a one-stop destination for a consumer base seeking specific items.

Over the last two years, the Marketplace has opened up to everyone with the same goal, regardless of color. 

Iynna Baker of New Age Vision LLC, left, talks to a shopper about the Ghanaian jewelry she is selling at her booth at the Buy Black Marketplace hosted by Archwood Exchange on Roosevelt Row in Phoenix on March 19, 2022.

“Everyone loves the idea that we are able to do this and it’s inclusive but at the same time keeps the identity of what we are trying to accomplish,” Dickerson said. 

By taking the lead in a professional realm that lacks diversity, Dickerson acknowledges that there’s a role model responsibility he and his colleagues have taken on, whether they wanted it or not. 

“A big barrier is that a lot of us don’t see entrepreneurs or people who work independently. But once you come out and see someone who looks like you who has an idea and there it is in front of you… that allows everyone to know you can do this too,” Dickerson said. “Who we are is on display. Just by that alone, we are role models. Not just for the next generation but for ours as well because it’s never too late.” 

When asked to share something surprising and positive he’s witnessed as a result of Archwood over the years, Dickerson can’t narrow it down to just one or two. Every month at every event, whether it’s a new shopper, a new vendor, or even a shopper who later becomes a vendor are among the impacts he sees instantly. 

“We hope to be a catalyst for continued growth of entrepreneurship within the black community and be the go-to when it comes to who you can go to to help get a business off the ground or to take it to the next level,” Dickerson said. “We’re stronger together.” 

What: Archwood Exchange 

Where: Phoenix 

Employees: Four

Interesting stat: In 2019, there were an estimated 134,566 black- or African American-owned businesses in the U.S. that generated $133.7 billion, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s  2020 Annual Business Survey.