How Denver’s ‘Little Black Book’ Is Boosting Black-Owned Businesses

A Black-owned business is helping people in the Denver metro area connect with other Black-owned businesses.

AURORA, Colo. — When Carla Ladd moved to Denver, she didn’t know where to find local Black-owned businesses.

“I was new. I didn’t know where the Black dentists were, Black doctors or chiropractors, or where I could get my hair done,” Ladd said. “There was nothing online that directed me to Black businesses.”

So, she created a directory herself:

It’s been more than 20 years since she launched the website, and it’s evolved from a hobby to a full-fledged business.

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” Ladd said with a laugh.

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic changed things.

“People really wanted to get out again, and they wanted something in hand versus sitting on the computer,” Ladd said.

She drew inspiration from history and started printing a “Little Black Book” in 2019.

“The Historic Green Book was a book that Black travelers used so they knew where they could go to be safe,” she said. “Our inspiration really was paying homage to the heritage.”

In the 2024 edition of the Little Black Book, Ladd honors that history with a photo shoot in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood, sometimes called the “Harlem of the West.”

The book, available in print and online, includes lists of Black-run festivals, places of worship, restaurants, nonprofits, health care services, and more. The advertisements are all for Black-owned businesses.

Black-owned businesses in Colorado are few compared to the size of the Black population. Out of almost 70,000 businesses in the Denver metro area, only about 1,000 are Black-owned, according to a Brookings Institute study. That means just 1.4% of all businesses are Black-owned, whereas roughly 5% of the people living in the area identify as Black.

Most of those Black-owned businesses are also sole proprietorships, meaning they don’t have any support staff.

“What I’m hoping to do is really build these businesses to where they have capacity for employees,” Ladd said. “The goal is to really get them to where they have more of an economic impact by employing others in the community.”

To amplify the impact of her directories, Ladd is partnering with chambers of commerce and local governments. Denver Mayor Mike Johnston shared his support for the latest version of the Little Black Book in a letter calling it a “robust tool” that works in tandem with Denver’s efforts to provide “capital and technical assistance to small businesses,” such as the Park Hill Innovation Hub.

Ladd herself carries around a copy of the Little Black Book in her purse, and she supports those businesses as much as she can.

When she celebrates the official launch of the newest edition on February 16, an Aurora small business, Beyond Elegance Events, will bring the event to life. (Tickets to the party at the Savoy Denver are still available).

Tracy Baxter, who runs B.E. Events, said she got her love for events from her mom.

“When I was little. I feel like we did a party every weekend at our house,” she said. “I started doing it for my kids and my family.”

Then in 2011, Baxter launched her small business.

“Weddings, quinceañeras, anniversaries, graduations, tons of baby showers,” Baxter said she does them all.

And she’s been growing her business over the years.

“When you get to actual brick and mortar, it’s a whole other level,” she said. “I had to wear so many different hats.”

Baxter said community support, like inclusion in the Little Black Book, has helped her expand to a larger event space and continue booking parties.

Now, Baxter hopes to make her business more than an event venue. She invites the community to “come and use the space for whatever they need.”

And that drive to give back to the community is exactly what Ladd said her Little Black Book is all about.

“We need support all year round,” Ladd said.

Looking ahead, Ladd plans to launch a Little Black Book for Colorado Springs next year, and she’s looking for someone to take over the business for her.

“It’s about legacy at this point for me,” she said. In about five years, “I want to pass the torch to someone who is as passionate about small business as I am.”

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