Website features African-American-owned businesses

February 20, 2012 3:39:53 PM PST
A Chicago-area couple is taking a page from Groupon and other websites that offer special deals from retailers.

They have launched their own site that features minority-owned businesses.

The site is called Blackmark-it, and it was created to help familiarize consumers with African-American owned businesses in Cook County.

The Harold Washington Cultural Center will be staging major theater productions, with the launch of its new series: "Off-Broadway to Bronzeville."

The first musical will be Dreamgirls, with performances every weekend in March.

To help sell tickets, the center turned to Blackmark-it, a new website that promotes discounts. The site is similar to other deal sites like Groupon, but Blackmark-it mainly features black-owned businesses.

"We did a happy dance when we got that call because we know that the production is huge. Huge for them and huge for us," said Blackmark-it co-founder Natasha Williams.

The husband-and-wife team of Natasha and Jamel Williams, along with a business partner, started working on Blackmark-it last summer and got the website up and running last month.

They realized more could be done to expose consumers to more than 100,000 black-owned businesses in Cook County.

"We have supported other deal sites, and we really saw an opportunity for a deal site targeted to the black community to bring more exposures to businesses that are in the neighborhoods," said Natasha Williams.

"It's almost like people don't realize that there's a need until you express it and then they say, 'Oh yeah, why didn't we think of this all along?'" said Jamel Williams.

Jamel and Natasha Williams say that to get businesses on board with Blackmark-it, they first reached out to business owners they knew.

Word of mouth spread quickly, and before long, businesses were calling them, like the Harold Washington Cultural Center.

The executive director says ticket sales exceeded expectations.

"It was a really cool experience to work with someone that made it very implicitly clear on how the structure works, how the customer benefits, how we benefit as a business," said Jimalita Tillman of the Harold Washington Cultural Center.

Blackmark-it offers two deals a week. It is based in Chicago, but the owners hope to eventually branch out to other cities.