Queens is the most ethnically diverse borough in New York City, with nearly half of its residents born outside the US. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has spent any time there: the food, shopping, spoken languages and faces reflect Queens’ rich diversity and shape its distinctive culture.
Experience this firsthand at the borough’s small businesses. The six BIPOC-owned shops below not only offer enticing goods but also give back to their communities and continue to deal with current-day challenges in creative, inspiring ways.
818 Woodward Ave. #D, Ridgewood
Lisa Jee, former creative director and head merchandiser of the Strand, and Michelle Delgado, onetime business-to-business lead at Etsy, met in 2016 while collaborating on a series for Etsy. Two years later, the new mothers left their corporate jobs to pursue their passion for independent business and design, opening the doors to Stay Forever.
The Ridgewood shop carries home goods, handmade jewelry, natural wellness products and stationery, among other items that tastefully combine form with function. For example, Anure’s Urbanist hand-poured candles look like elegant, geometric sculptures, and the Preston watering can is an object you’ll want to display in your home (and on your Instagram page.)
Each month, the shop introduces children’s books that focus on racial diversity and social justice, donating proceeds from the sales to organizations such as the Okra Project, which helps Black trans, nonbinary and gender-noncomforming people, and Children of Promise, NYC, which supports children of incarcerated parents.
26-16 23rd Ave., Astoria
Beatrice Ajaero, founder of Ibari, has curated a shop with specialty items—from fine foods to musical instruments—that reflect her West African roots and global point of view. Must-try products include Adja, a bouillon seasoning powder from Senegal; African shea butter for moisturizing skin; and Moroccan tea glasses that elevate everyday glassware.
With an MBA in sustainability and a law degree, Ajaero is committed to educating people on sustainable business practices. Offerings like Atlas extra-virgin olive oil sourced from environmentally friendly groves in Morocco and colorful tote bags made locally on Roosevelt Island reflect this mission.
While you’re in the neighborhood, be sure to stop by Ajaero’s other venture, Nneji, Astoria’s lone West African restaurant.
135-18 Northern Blvd., Flushing
Growing up in Queens, Jaeki Cho recognized the lack of stores in the borough catering to sneakerheads and streetwear lovers—like himself. In 2018, he opened the Flushing branch of Alumni, which already had established stores in Flatbush and Crown Heights. You’ll find apparel from highly coveted streetwear labels like Rhude, Kapital and Needles alongside shoes from classic brands such as Adidas, Dr. Martens and Puma, plus an in-house line of clothing.
Cho uses the shop to connect with the Queens community and, more broadly, NYC. Alumni hosts meetups every Wednesday for the World's Fair Run Crew, a running group in Queens. Be sure to follow the store’s Instagram account, which features a series called Alumni of NY that highlights creatives and community leaders, including activist and New York City Council candidate Chi Ossé.
11-18 46th Rd., Long Island City
Television buffs may recognize Communitea’s original location on Vernon Boulevard from Ugly Betty, Person of Interest or Gossip Girl. Launched in 2005 by married couple Lloyd Canning and Kafia Saxe, the teahouse moved a decade later to its current corner spot a few blocks away.
Beyond its menu of coffee, teas (more than 60 loose-leaf varieties), sandwiches, salads and alcoholic drinks, Communitea sells pantry items and crafts made by local creators, including earrings by Miski Metal and ceramic matcha bowls by Christina Colombo.
Known for hosting poetry nights and other in-store shows (which are on pause), Communitea continues to bring the neighborhood together through art exhibitions that showcase works created during the pandemic.
1021 Beach 20th St., Far Rockaway
Far Rockaway natives Terrill Kirk and Tyrell Oliver opened The Crate in 2014. The shop carries a namesake line of apparel and accessories, including colorful tees and sweatsuits that have become so popular they’ve been worn by Kanye West, Carmelo Anthony and Issa Rae, to name a few.
The secret sauce behind The Crate’s success is the founders’ stalwart support of the community. For instance, photo shoots for the brand feature residents of (and locations in) Far Rockaway rather than models. Kirk and Oliver also work with nonprofits like Rock Safe Streets, dedicated to ending the cycle of violence among youth in the neighborhood.
36-47 30th St., Long Island City
Born and raised in Ethiopia to parents of Eritrean origin, Eden Gebre Egziabher fled her home after the war broke out between the two African countries. She came to the United States as a teenager and eventually settled in Queens, where she owns and runs Makina Cafe, NYC’s only Ethiopian and Eritrean food truck.
Items on the menu include tibs (marinated and grilled chicken or beef) served with injera (spongy sour flatbread) alongside a choice of vegetables, such as misir (a spicy lentil stew) and tikel gomen (cabbage, carrots and potatoes).
For Egziabher, giving back to the community is essential to the business. In 2020, Makina Cafe prepared and served food for frontline hospital workers in Flushing, and is now donating food to Astoria Fridge, a public refrigerator that locals stock for those in need. Follow Makina Cafe on Instagram, where Egziabher hosts the occasional conversation with other small business owners about race and female entrepreneurship.