ST. PETERSBURG — Two good friends who worked at Azalea Middle School had an idea.
Hillary Van Dyke, then a teacher, and Joshua Bean, a school social worker, shared a strong bent toward social activism. They had seen more than one kid lost to violence. And they thought the best way to help the community would be through economic vitality.
“Through businesses,” said Bean, 41. “Through putting dollars into Black businesses' pockets.”
“How do we build economic vitality?" asked Van Dyke, 35. "An easy way is to be intentional in how you spend your money.”
And so was born Green Book of Tampa Bay, named for the annual guidebook that gave Black travelers safe places to stay, eat and visit during the Jim Crow era, and also the subject of an Oscar-winning 2018 movie.
Green Book of Tampa Bay instead would highlight Black-owned businesses in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties and beyond, and encourage consumers to spend there.
It started up last year as a grassroots effort with their own research, word of mouth and what Bean called some “guerrilla marketing” to get a couple hundred listings on a site he called "super-basic” — business name, hyperlink and phone number.
But this year, things changed.
In March, they paired up with One Community St. Pete, an economic growth plan in the city, which got them connected to a web developer. With that, consumers could type in and search the site by category, such as auto repair, hair salon or insurance, and also by city — like a Black business Yelp.
Then, George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis.
Obviously, it was no boost to celebrate, they said. But that day and that video “seemed to really have an impact on people’s seriousness of inquiry,” said Van Dyke. “People were trying to figure out: What can I do? They turned to trying to support Black-owned businesses.”
“People wanted something they could do that was tangible,” said Bean.
Today greenbooktampabay.org has more than 500 listings and thousands of followers on Facebook and Instagram. In August, they saw 5,000 searches. The majority of business owners list for free, though a few pay the $30 yearly premium fee to add videos, menus and frequently-asked questions.
Anyone know of any Black-owned gutter replacement businesses in Tampa Bay? asked a recent Facebook post.
Chiquita Clark, an engineering design associate, said she found several businesses she never heard of there.
“Being a native of St. Pete and also being a Black woman, it’s of interest to me to make sure I find and support Black business,” she said.
Kelly Kennedy, a private school teacher in St. Petersburg, found out through Green Book’s Instagram that a restaurant she loved but thought had closed was opening on Sundays. The website lets anyone add a business, so when she used a tree removal service she liked, she put them in there.
Kennedy, who is white, says she thinks it’s important for consumers to be conscientious about where they put their money “because there’s been income disparity," she said.
Mya Cato, who runs Meeyogi yoga and wellness in Tampa, already makes a point to partner with small, local, women-owned and Black-owned businesses. She was on board when Van Dyke told her about Green Book.
“Not only as a business but as a consumer, you want to have that directory of where I can reinvest my dollars into the Black community," she said.
“There aren’t very many Black vegan businesses,” said Sharea Harris, who runs A3 Confections, which makes custom cakes in Riverview. “I just wanted to get my name out there as a vegan baker. I’m glad to be listed in their book.”
Anne-Sophie Petit-Frere, a realtor who was recently listed, says she wants to support all businesses, but that it’s also important to support minorities. “We have to fight a lot of tougher battles, so that support means everything to us,” she said.
Though Van Dyke and Bean are not making a living at it — they both work in school district administration — they have goals for the nonprofit Green Book. Maybe even Green Book of Florida. They take donations to try to keep the service free.
“If we improve one area of the community, we feel like the entire community benefits,” Bean said.