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Small Business Saturday a reminder to boost the local economy

Ronald Springer is owner of Denver-based Akente Express. Small Business Saturday, which lands between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, is officially recognized by the U.S Small Business Administration as a day to help kick off the holiday season while supporting small businesses and the local economy. During the rush to stock up on holiday gifts, remember to patronize local businesses, such as Denver-based Akente Express, which Canady’s Corner highlighted last summer. Below is a re-post of "Akente Express celebrates 21 years."

This year marks 21 years since Ronald Springer created Akente Express, an Afro-centric store supplying fabric, art, incense, oils, jewelry, hair and skin care products.

“I’ve been blessed to do this,” says Springer, who created the idea for Akente Express when he picked up on the community’s demand for African fabric in April 1991. The New York native broke the market by purchasing fabric from his hometown and selling fabric for $9 a yard. He went home, “spent $800 on fabric, jewelry, incense oils and cute stuff, and returned to Denver and sold everything in two weeks. I thought that was pretty interesting and profitable. I went back and spent $3,200.”

He had mastered his formula. By the time Juneteenth and the Denver Black Arts festival rolled around that year, “I was selling hand over fist. Evidently, I was getting things no one else could get,” says Springer, who executed words of wisdom from Clara Villarosa, then-owner of Hue-Man Experience Bookstore.

Villarosa walked by his booth at the arts festival, looked at him and said, “You need a store.” Along the way he also picked up a partner, Michael Simmons. By Nov. 15, 1991 they had incorporated and set up shop next door to the bookstore. Not only did he get the overflow from book signings, with high-profile people as Colin Powell and Maya Angelou, he maintained business relationships with Cleo Parker Robinson Dance, the Denver Center Theatre Company, school systems and events hosted in Colorado, such as the Black Ski Summit.

“The first six years we were successful,” says Springer, who initially had carts in downtown Denver bringing in $200 a day. “Then we slowed down by 40 percent.”

He says African traders were coming to town and staying, mainstream stores were offering similar products and the start-up of basement businesses. One day he counted about 40 other stores in Denver doing what he was doing. “They were doing a little bit, but not everything. But one and two percent of your business here and there taking from your business adds up.” About eight years in Simmons decided to return educational consulting with Denver Public Schools.

“I was wondering if I was doing the right thing myself,” says Springer, who on a snowy day had resigned himself to head to Pierre’s restaurant for some catfish and a drink while he rethought his plan.

“It was 6:20 p.m., and I closed at 6:30 p.m. One of the costume designers from the Denver Center for Performing Arts came in to purchase material for plays. She said 'I want this, this and this.' I thought I was going to have to cut into tomorrow, with a yard here and there. She says 'I want all of it.' By end of week she had spent about $11,000."

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