By Shirley Hawkins
GARDENA — When Dimitrios Jones was working as a community organizer in South Los Angeles several years ago, he realized that something was wrong.
“I noticed that there was a lack of quality foods in these neighborhoods,” said Jones, a Rochester, New York, native who moved to Los Angeles in 2011. “All I saw were fast-food establishments. I found out that these areas were commonly referred to as ‘food deserts.’”
Jones moved from Rochester to get away from the cold and snow.
“It was chilly and snowy in Rochester and I wanted to move to a different city,” he said. “So I bought a car on Craig’s List for $500 and traveled to L.A. with only $200 in my pocket.
When he arrived, Jones realized that there were no Black-owned grocery stores in existence that specialized in selling Black-produced products.
“I said, ‘We are in the 2020s now and how come there is nothing that reflects us and our culture that was made by us in the stores? I realized that we didn’t have Black-owned stores of our own like other ethnic groups. That became the inspiration for the North Star Market,” said Jones, who held a grand opening for his Gardena-based Black-products-only store in October 2020.
To find Black vendors, Jones accesses the internet and also solicits vendors through word of mouth. He said he was surprised by how many Black vendors responded and soon he received a floodgate of inquiries from vendors who contacted him about stocking their products.
“So far, we have 80 vendors and 200 individual items in the store that are Black produced,” said Jones, who said that vendors ship products to the market from Georgia, Texas and New York.
“I use Instagram and Google to find Black vendors and vendors contact me through Facebook and Instagram. And I use a lot of prayer,” Jones said with a laugh. “We’re one of the only stores in the nation that sells all Black-owned groceries and goods.”
Jones said he is constantly surprised by the variety of Black products that are being produced across the country.
“I just found one of the first Black-owned bread companies in Houston, Texas called Nation’s Bread. And I just found a Black-owned pacifier and baby swaddle company,” he added.
Jones recalled a customer who strolled into the store one day and was surprised to see the number of Black-produced products.
“She said that her mother made great salsa and that she would tell her mother about the store. The next day her mother showed up with jars of her tasty salsa brand,” Jones said.
Jones said that Black vendors are usually glad to greet each other when they meet in the store.
“The store helps to create a small family. We usually form a bond because there are so few of us,” he said.
Jones proudly strolls up and down his aisles pointing at the dozens of products lining the shelves.
“We carry Black-produced light bulbs, toothbrushes and toothpaste, mouthwash, deodorant as well as the Chick Chef brand, which manufactures pasta, rice and grits,” he said.
“We also have Christmas pajamas for your little ones,” he added, noting that many of the items in his store would make great Christmas gifts.
He also stocks products from a Black-owned egg company, a pickle company, a salad company, the Eleven86 Water Company, Exotic Pop, a Black-owned soda company; and drinks from Kraft’D Lemonade.
“We have Bead Oil, which is hand-made soap,” he added. “We also have Black-owned cocoa butter, conditioner and shampoo as well as hair oil and hair moisturizer and Black-owned cookies, cakes and cheesecakes.
“Fran’s Signature Ice Cream, which is popular with our customers, carries 30 different flavors of ice cream, including peach cobbler, banana pudding and strawberry,” Jones said. “It’s home-made ice cream that has completely natural ingredients.
“I noticed that African Americans are surprised to know that a Black product store actually exists,” he added. “Sometimes you’re battling the stereotypes. Someone will come in and say, ‘You have a great attitude, the store is fully stocked and the items are not expensive.’ They’re surprised that the items in our store are of such high quality.”
The store owner added that he loves networking with Black vendors as a way to support their businesses and anticipates seeing other budding Black entrepreneurs launch businesses in the coming years.
For those who would like to sample the products, Jones offers the North Star $29.99 monthly subscription box. “Every month, you’ll have a box delivered to your doorstep that will include some amazing Black-owned products,” he said.
And Jones said expansion plans for his business are already in the works.
“We are building a kitchen where we’ll be offering soul food or comfort foods that will relate to everyone in the diaspora. I want to utilize the front part of the store as a community space where we can host community meetings and talk about issues that affect us,” Jones added.
As for the name the North Star Market, Jones said the inspiration was derived from two historical figures, abolitionist Harriet Tubman and orator, writer and statesman Frederick Douglass.
“Harriet Tubman used the North Star as a guiding light to get our people to freedom from South to North,” said Jones. “And the first Black-owned newspaper was created by Frederick Douglass called the North Star. So in homage to these two historical figures, I named my business the North Star Market.”
The North Star Market is located at 16410 S. Vermont Ave., in Gardena. Hours are noon to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The market can be reached by calling (716) 986-6104.
Shirley Hawkins is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.