Black-Owned Cooperative and Shopping Center in Fam Mart Has Plans to Grow

The Booker family aims to transform San Diego's 'Fam Mart' into a "For Us By Us" space by renting as much of the space and making it available to other Black business owners and vendors.

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DLBooker Beauty Supply and Hair Care has comfortable carpeted flooring. (Photo: TJ Dunnivant).

By TJ Dunnivant, V&V Contributing Writer

If you grew up in 4th District (Emerald Hills, Webster, Chollas View, etc.), or you raised a family in that area, you were familiar with the Thrifty strip mall/shopping center. The center is nostalgic for our Black community as it was the home of Wrigley’s, The San Diego Voice and Viewpoint newspaper, Black Chamber of Commerce, Round Table and the old FedCo building. Some can remember when FedCo closed around 1984 and Fam Mart took up residence in the space around 1985.

Fam Mart became quite the hub for our community and in the early years the majority of vendors were Asian and the majority of shoppers were Black. After a couple of public complaints in 1991, our Black community boycotted Fam Mart because of the disrespectful treatment by the vendor owners. Today, the retail space is only half of what it was and one Black family, the Bookers, is trying to make it “for us by us” by renting much of the space and making it available to other Black vendors.

“I go way back with The San Diego Voice and Viewpoint, Wrigley’s and other businesses that were here,“ exclaimed Mr. Dwayne Booker of DLBooker Enterprise, “I’m trying to keep our business here [in this community]. We don’t want to go outside; so we appreciate all the support we can get!”

We only spoke briefly to Mr. Booker on the phone last week, and most of the history of DLBooker Enterprise was told to us by his daughter, Zienia (Z) Booker on July 30th. “My father started this business 20 years ago after retiring from a company that designed airline interiors,” Z explained pridefully. “We’ve been in this location for the past 10 years, but before that we were at the Kobey’s Swapmeet.”

Z’s energy is full of light, aspiration, and compassion for her Black community and its potential growth with her family’s business. She gives credit to her dad for teaching her the “gift of gab” and including her in the learning process of being a small business. Z tells us that her mom and dad, Linda and Dwayne Booker are the foundation of DLBooker Enterprise.

With a jovial spirit, Z reminisces of the early days when they were one of the first to start a website with GoDaddy. She said it was a time when images of each item took ten minutes to load and the phone line was tied up as they were doing it. “We are updating the site,” they would tell friends and family. “Don’t call us for the next couple of hours.” We laughed together thinking about the slow-archaic technology of the past and what it took to be a small-business owner before everything came with the ease of a click.

According to Zienia, the family history of DLBooker Enterprise is a bootstrap story in itself. Starting at the swapmeet, the very first day, they had to have the lady across from them help to pitch the pop-up tent. It wasn’t too long before they went from one tent and expanded to five tents. Sales started off slow but together, as a family, they found courses that would teach them how to get someone’s attention in 15 seconds.

After some time, they became the loudest vendor at the swapmeet and their button-up colorful men’s dress shirts were selling off the shelves. Apparently, they were only $15. $10 less than the exact shirt being sold at the Men’s Warehouse across the street. Z said that she wouldn’t be the business woman she is today, if it weren’t for her dad taking her to business courses and teaching her how to come out of her shyness.

When the Bookers moved their business to Fam Mart, they acquired one 20 X 20 space. At that time, the complex was called the San Diego Market Place. The former Fam Mart establishment moved up to 54th and University and ran business out of that strip mall. Sometime after the Bookers moved into SD MarketPlace and started acquiring more space, Fam Mart came back and re-established itself.

It seems the owners were honest with the Bookers about the history. Contrary to other opinions, the Bookers decided to continue to patronize the complex. They now rent the entire back half of the warehouse which is roughly the equivalent of ten to fifteen 20×20 spaces. The Bookers want to collaborate with more Black vendors to bring their businesses in.

As of now, they rented the kitchen area to a Black owned restaurant called “Crav’n Crab Cakes”. They also used some of the space to open a hair salon with stations and have contracted stylists and a nail salon that is getting ready to open with chairs and tubs already in place. There are plenty more spaces for any other Black-owned boutiques, business owners or artists that want to collaborate with the Bookers. The location has great potential to one day be what it once was, but with a touch more of class.

The Bookers also give back to the community by offering GPA discounts to high school youth needing a prom or graduation outfit, and to formerly incarcerated men needing clothes for their next interview or job. Z mentioned that giving back is important to her family because they know that God will bless them in return. According to Z, the entire family puts God first before any move that they make and all the credit for their success is given to the Man above because of their unwavering belief in what HE can do for them.

God was most certainly present the afternoon of our visit, and it brought an additional sense of peace and light to the environment that didn’t feel anything like the old Fam Mart vibes. Now, the vibe is peaceful and welcoming and many in our community will be able to enjoy the comfortable atmosphere.

For now, the Bookers have huge hopes and dreams for Fam Mart to become a lively spot again for the Black community. They continue to invest and buy more space for other Black owned businesses to join and create a larger collaborative within the complex.

They would like help spreading the word or having events that will draw the crowds back to the venue and back to the community. Zenia hopes the current business will one day grow to become an entire shopping mall for recycled Black dollars. But for now, patrons can come relax, enjoy and shop for home decor, sassy printed tees, colorful fascinators, scarfs, Black beauty supply and hair care, clothing and an entire men’s section of high fashion suits, shoes, socks, hats and dress shirts. If you haven’t been to Fam Mart in awhile, it is time to come check it out and see what DLBooker Enterprises has to offer.