Dozens of merchants come from all over the world to vend at Juanita “Busy Bee” Britton’s annual African-American art extravaganza in northwest Washington, D.C.
From natural skin care products and couture gowns to books and household cleaning supplies, the upscale and highly anticipated BZB International Holiday Gift and Art Show, now in its 22nd year, provides one-of-a-kind merchandise for the entire family.
Since she began selling lemonade at the age of 10, Britton, commonly referred to simply as “Busy,” has understood the importance of making money.
“I was very pragmatic in my community as a child,” she said. “I knew it was important to spend money in Black businesses.”
Although “Busy” studied political science in college, business and entrepreneurship was the field she loved.
“Business came natural for me. People now go to class to learn how to be an entrepreneur and I find that so odd, because it’s in your gut,” she said.
Britton traveled to London, where she saw retail shows and first considered starting her own event. Under the tutelage of people already in the entrepreneur business, “Busy Bee” took advice from her friends Lee Hairston and Vernard Gray, and decided to create and host an art exhibition.
After first charging $1 to enter the BZB International Art Show, and then increasing it to $2, she had a change of heart. “I felt uncomfortable charging people to have to come and shop,” Brown said.
Now, she said only a smile is required to enter one of the largest African American art shows in the Maryland, D.C., and Virginia area.
Local shoppers look forward to the event.
“I remember coming [here] while I was in college,” one customer, Julia Goodman, said. “I was always amazed in what I saw, and those certain things I always look forward to seeing.”
Now 44, Goodman said she comes to the exhibition yearly and “expects [to see] certain vendors [merchandise] because it’s things that you can’t find at the mall.”
While the art and fashion expo presented first-time vendors such as “Tru Gems by Renee,” other vendors including “Bases Loaded Authentic Clothing and Kaps” (B.L.A.C.K.) are veterans of the event. Husband and wife Anthony Robinson and Kim Greene are distributors of the Negro League, Buffalo Soldiers, and Tuskegee Airmen Memorabilia, and have sold at the BZB art show for ten years.
“We love coming to sell [merchandise] here and we’ve been doing it with BZB for ten years, and we do well,” Robinson said. “We built a client base. We do an e-mail blast to all of our customers informing them that we’re in town.”
Hailing from Raleigh, NC, the couple sells high-end items such as authentic black leather jackets for $400 and more affordable wares such as $10 black baseball caps.
During this time of year, most people at the event shop for Christmas gifts—but not all.
Over the years, BZB International patrons have spent nearly $5 million dollars with Black businesses, artisans and merchants.
“My very first show, back in 1990 was successful.” Britton recalled. “There was a long line of people outside waiting to get in, and it was snowing,” She was so thrilled she said, “so I bought everyone coffee.”
BZB International today includes 75 vendors, up from just 20 vendors in 1990. The art expo is located on 1510 Ninth Street, N.W., and is open to the public on the day after Thanksgiving, every Saturday in December, and also on Christmas Eve from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m.