Black History Month: Putting the focus on a number of Black-owned businesses in East Toronto

East Toronto resident Bilqees Grant is the co-founder of Helius Originals. Photo: Submitted.

By AMARACHI AMADIKE, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Black History Month in February is a proud time for the Black community. It is a time to acknowledge the hardships of the past, but most importantly, to celebrate the successes of the present. To commemorate the elevation of Black culture, here are some Black-owned businesses to look out for in East Toronto:

HELIUS ORIGINALS

The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way in which many people view the world. It particularly changed the way many view their work-life relationship.

Following multiple lockdowns and being forced to work from home, some, like Helius Originals co-founder Bilqees Grant, opted to take their lives into their own hands.

A long-time resident of East Toronto and veteran in the hospitality industry, Grant’s entrepreneurial mindset took over after realizing that there was an opportunity in a hospitality industry that had seen many establishments shut down, leaving residents with no place to socialize with loved ones.

Helius Originals’ founders realized that being stuck inside has escalated people’s desire to socialize. They decided to fill this gap by finding a way to bring the excitement you receive from a bartender pouring your favourite drink straight to consumers’ homes.

“From time to time, we all want to add excitement to the things we know and love,” said Grant. “With Helius Originals, you can be in the driving seat of adding a new experience to your beloved cocktails. When it comes to enhancing a valued experience, our cocktail kits provide thousands of ways to achieve this.”

Together with her business partner, Grant developed refined smoked wood boards which can be used 300 to 400 times per side. Utilizing locally sourced, sustainable lumber, Helius

Originals takes an environmentally friendly route by making an effort to divert waste materials from landfills.

“It’s much more than cocktail kits, wood boards, and wood shavings,” said Grant. “Helius Originals products are a way to connect with family members, friends, co-workers, or anyone you know who deserves a memorable experience. Life is measured in moments; make the most out of your moments.”

With the assistance of the Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce, they found mentorship as well as resources that enabled them to evolve the business into the success that it is today.

“We are blessed to be part of a community that genuinely puts in the time and effort for us to succeed,” said Grant. “The CBCC allows us to connect and collaborate with like-minded entrepreneurs in a way that builds up our community across Canada.”

Although the business is currently online-based, Grant believes it won’t be too long before East Toronto sees yet another Black-owned business expand into brick and mortar.

“Navigating the entrepreneurial world as a young Black entrepreneur has had its challenges, but it’s helped me grow as a person as I grow our business,” said Grant. “The most rewarding parts of this journey are that I have something I can call my own and attempt to make a difference in my community in the process.”

FRESH PAINT STUDIO

Like Grant, Fresh Paint Studio’s owner Roxanne Tracey also sees immense value in “taking the road less travelled” to become a business owner.

“It’s a road that’s not easy but it is one that is worth it,” said Tracey.

Located at 1849 Danforth Ave., her studio is an artist’s dream. The space combines a painting lab with a cafe, as well as a lounge in which guests can enjoy relaxing music, spoken word and other forms of entertainment.

A visual artist and poet herself, Tracey aimed to cultivate a “creative community space that inspires a love for creating art while bringing out each person’s inner artist” when she opened her studio during Black History Month seven years ago.

At Fresh Paint Studio, artists are encouraged to abandon the conventional way of viewing art spaces. Tracey believes that art should be social; art should be relaxing and fun.

With not too many known Black-owned art spaces in East Toronto, Tracey, who originally grew up in Toronto’s west end, told Beach Metro Community News that it is important that more Black businesses are created in the city in order to create an “opportunity for representation amongst individuals who often didn’t have an opportunity.”

“This is a way to help to nurture people within your own Black community to elevate themselves as people who can be independent entrepreneurs,” said Tracey.

“It’s really important in terms of what we can present and to show that we do have the ability to build businesses from the ground up and offer services and products that are relevant to the greater community.”

HILL STUDIO

Black is beautiful. Every Black person has grown up hearing this phrase as a reminder to not allow the media’s version of beauty distort our own minds. This is an essential part of Black culture that is filled with young, impressionable children who may be growing up in environments that make them feel otherwise. In this spirit, you cannot write an article promoting Black businesses without talking about beauty salons.

Hill Studio (639 Queen St. E.) was created by Allison Hill, a licensed hair care professional who has studied under leading stylists in New York, London and Paris. She specializes in cutting, colouring and the maintenance of natural hair.

Named after her mother, Hill is passionate about making Black women feel like royalty. Affected by her mother’s sudden passing, the hair stylist wanted to create a space that “integrated wellness into our daily lives.”

Hill began collaborating with wellness practitioners in order to offer her customers activities that enhance wellness.

With a motto that reads “good energy, good hair” boldly printed on the studio wall, Hill Studios gives clients a community in which they can receive both.

“The Creative Team at Hill aren’t just your stylists, we’re that friend that wants to help you look and feel your best,” said a statement on the Hill Studios website. “When you sit in our chair, look to the left, look to the right, those people, our clients, are individuals whom, like you, want to contribute to an atmosphere of love, laughter, and encouragement.”

HONORARY MENTION — BKS BARBER

Just like Hill Studios, Black men also find community at the barbershop. BKS Barber at 586 Jones Ave. is a cultural hub where men go to crack jokes and let their guards down while getting affordable haircuts.

Established in 2013, BKS is home to a qualified team of barbers and hair stylists that are capable of executing both male and female hair styles.

With all that being said, Happy Black History Month.

Amarachi Amadike is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Beach Metro Community News. His reporting is funded by the Government of Canada through its Local Journalism Initiative.


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