Hillary Van Dyke and Joshua Bean started “The Green Book of Tampa Bay” as a nod to the Jim Crow-era guidebook that safely pointed Black travelers to places to eat, visit and stay.
Their website began compiling lists of Black-owned businesses in 2018 that all people can solicit and support.
"We started by building from the ground up, getting some brief media exposure and a lot of word of mouth," says Bean. Then the pandemic hit and their idea for a little website started to grow.
Black-owned businesses needing any sort of advertising help they could to stay alive signed on; from restaurants to realtors, mechanics to museums.
"It’s been a huge resource to help businesses stay afloat who may or may not have a website to promote pop-up shops and just promote their brand or business," says Bean. He and Van Dyke are old friends from their days working at a Bay Area middle school. And while they went their separate ways a few years back, their interest in social activism always kept them close.
With the death of George Floyd in May, people wanted to know what else they could do besides march in the streets. Web searches for "Black-owned businesses" grew and The Green Book was perfectly positioned to help.
"After George Floyd’s death at the end of May, people were just looking for what they could do and the easiest thing people seemed to flock to was supporting Black-owned businesses. So suddenly people started learning about the Green Book of Tampa Bay," says Van Dyke.
200 business listings on their website grew to more than 600. Their web traffic ballooned and so did their social media following. Green Book grant money they received from Pinellas County allowed Tijuana Baker to design the website for her new BBQ catering business, Baker's BBQ & Catering. Within the first hour of going live, Baker received her first order.
"Not every area has something like The Green Book where they are literally driving the customers and the traffic to you. People [customers] who want to invest in small business, Black-owned businesses," says Baker.
Most business owners are listed on Van Dyke and Bean's website for free. Others pay a small fee to add videos and their menus. When you ask the pair if they ever thought their small idea would get so big and help businesses rebound out of the pandemic, they modestly tell you it has become more than they ever imagined.
"Just being part of that and helping some of those businesses grow has been really cool," says Van Dyke.