By Joshua Riley
Tacoma has a deep history of Black-owned businesses, with communities blossoming from the Great Migration West. Past, present, and future, the Tacoma region has and will provide opportunities for Black business owners and entrepreneurs.
According to Tacoma History, the Northwest Pacific Railway Company provided many jobs for Black Americans. By the 1920s the Northwest had a prominent Black middle class and several Black owned businesses throughout Tacoma, most notably in Hilltop. The founder of Hilltop was George Putnam Riley (1833-1905), a Black man who purchased 67 acres of land legally known as the Alliance Addition. He was an inspirational public speaker who was active in the political Northwest, forming and presiding over the Workingmen’s Joint Stock Association (WJSA).
The road to business ownership is a long, worthwhile journey better taken with others, evidenced by Bite Me Cookies owner Deborah Tuggle. “People want to hear what they can relate to!” says the hometown resident of Hilltop. Tuggle started her business during college, selling cookies in her free time and eventually becoming her own boss. She spent “five solid years before [she] could take in a good salary”, but her perseverance turned “Friday’s Cookies” into “Bite Me Cookies”, shipping orders and selling products to grocery stores throughout the country.
“Black businesses serve their community in different ways”, says Christina Blocker, founder of DEI consulting firm Momentum. A consultant for the Tacoma Urban League, Blocker is passionate about the success of Black entrepreneurs in Tacoma, working with businesses today to provide inclusion for underserved communities, providing “DEIA support for organizations, and support with community engagement”.
How can Black businesses address the hurdles of sustaining a small business? Dr. Christopher Armstrong-Goings, Sr., who coaches businesses and trains veterans in transition with Business ImpactNW, addresses these concerns. “You’ve got to look in your neighborhood and ask questions”, says the veteran who calls the Pacific Northwest home after 22 years in the military. Working with BusinessImpactNW, Goings hopes to “give back to [the] community that supported [him]”.Goings works specifically with veterans and service members.
We’ve learned that Black entrepreneurs and business owners uplift each other when they collaborate with one another. Coworking and collaboration spaces like TractionSpace, continue to support Tacoma’s African American community.
When asked for advice for prospective Black business owners, both Tuggle and Goings agree the first step to growing the Black community of Tacoma is collaboration. “We’re not always asking enough… people are going to YouTube University and Instagram University” said Goings, “Find other Black businesses who have got started and ask them how they overcame any of the fears you have getting started”.
Tuggle echoes a similar sentiment, “Black businesses need to come together, feed off each other, learn together and collaborate” she says, “I hire people who are smarter than I am… We’re stronger together than we are apart!”.
“Not enough programs provide support services for systemic barriers faced by black owned businesses”, believes Blocker, motivating her line of work. She remains hopeful of Tacoma’s future, “[we have] many amazing entrepreneurs that are not only doing great work but are pouring into the community that they’re serving.”
We’ll continue to see Black businesses in Tacoma as time passes, but in order to succeed we must work together and alongside each other. TractionSpace provides space to do so, while building community and providing resources. We hope to grow alongside and help build the future of Black businesses in Tacoma.