When most people think of Charleston, South Carolina, images of Rainbow Row, the picturesque Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, and dozens of award-winning restaurants that call the city home likely come to mind. But what many tend to overlook are the diverse, Black-owned businesses that add their own piece of history to the culturally rich destination.
Charleston’s Gullah-Geechee residents are a part of the Black community, ensuring the city never loses its cultural flare. Many have now opened businesses or set up booths in the popular straw market to sell handcrafted pieces you’ll only find in this region.
For those who aren’t familiar with the Gullah-Geechee people, they are descendants of enslaved Africans who arrived to various Sea Island plantations — mostly from West African nations. Since then, they’ve passed down many traditions that visitors love, including sweetgrass basket weaving.
Planning a trip to the Holy City? Here’s how you can spend your time in Charleston while supporting Black-owned businesses.
Book a room at the only full-service Black-owned hotel.
Owned by Black Entertainment Television cofounder Robert Johnson, the Courtyard Charleston Historic District is said to be the only full-service Black-owned hotel in Charleston, according to a spokesperson at the Charleston Convention & Visitors Bureau. It’s located on Calhoun Street in the heart of downtown, just a short walk from the popular shopping area of King Street. Plus, the hotel has an on-site bistro, fitness center, and pool.
Learn about Charleston’s history with Franklin Williams.
Since 2015, Franklin Williams has run a family-owned tour business, called Frankly Charleston, which takes visitors to the area’s lesser-known neighborhoods. During the two-hour downtown tour, you’ll get a closer look at how Charleston’s enslaved population lived in comparison to their neighbors. Stops include The Citadel, Mother Emanuel AME Church (the site of the 2015 Charleston mass shooting), and more.
If you’re interested in learning more about the area’s Gullah-Geechee people and culture, reserve a spot with Gullah Tours, hosted by Alphonso Brown, or Gullah Geechee Tours with Godfrey Hill.
Indulge in variations of Charleston chewies, a local staple.
Daddy’s Girls Bakery is just one of the many places that whips up the popular brownie-like bars made with brown sugar — but they’ll also tell you the other recipes don’t compare to Aunt Landa’s. In addition to the original version of the Lowcountry dessert, the bakery makes a chewie cheesecake and dozens of other sweet treats, like chicken and waffle cupcakes and oatmeal raisin sandwich cookies.
Browse handmade jewelry and paintings by Black artists.
Stop by Charleston’s Gallery Row and pop into Meisha Johnson’s Neema Fine Art Gallery, housed in a building that once printed Confederate money. Johnson handpicks the award-winning artists and jewelers that are displayed in the space. Currently, you can find works from Romare Bearden, Dana Coleman, Noland Anderson, and more.
Shop till you drop at one of Charleston’s most colorful boutiques.
Make your way to The Tiny Tassel, a colorful boutique owned by Mimi Striplin. Here, you’ll find Striplin’s signature tassel earrings, fun trinkets, gifts like Charleston-inspired candles, and handmade clothing sewn by her mother. When you shop, not only will you be supporting the boutique, but you’ll also be supporting the nearly one dozen women- and Asian-owned brands that featured in the store.
Catch your favorite team in action at 1st Place Premium Sports Pub.
Opened in late 2021, 1st Place is owned by the same team behind Charleston’s Mesu and Bourbon n’ Bubbles. The upscale bar has over 20 TV screens, so you can catch all of your teams at once. On the menu, you’ll find what the owners call “elevated pub fare,” including a black bean burger, local peel and eat shrimp, funnel cake fries, and more. There’s also a selection of beers on tap and a weekend brunch every Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Fill up on okra soup, Gullah rice, and more regional dishes.
You can’t go to Charleston without getting a bowl of okra soup and some version of the area’s seafood rice. Luckily, My Three Sons has both. This family-owned eatery, which was opened by Antwan Smalls, his mother (Lorraine Smalls), and Alice Warren in 2015, serves up everything from Gullah rice (a play on the original seafood rice made with tilapia, sausage, and shrimp) to Antwan’s pecan brownie and seafood platters.
At Bertha’s Kitchen, a longstanding counter-style restaurant, try the red rice — a Charleston staple — fried chicken, and fried pork chops, and at Nana’s Seafood & Soul, order the devil crab. And for a nightcap, Mesu offers an extensive tequila selection and creative cocktails like the La Sombra (tequila, cinnamon simple syrup, pineapple juice, and citrus).
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