As a small business owner and the founder of Charlotte’s Juneteenth festival, Pape Ndiaye has deep community ties and understands the challenges facing business owners and their customers. His advice to fellow entrepreneurs? View this unique challenge as an opportunity.
“Don’t give up. Use this time to get involved in your community,” said Ndiaye, owner of House of Africa, a store featuring authentic African art, clothing and jewelry. “Volunteer, learn something new and use the resources that the City of Charlotte provides to help you out during this time.”
Like so many other Charlotte business owners, the virus came as a shock and Ndiaye had to close House of Africa from March to June. It was important to him that his role as a community leader shone through during this uncertain time.
“Staying closed was hard to do,” he said. “But I wanted everyone to know how seriously I considered the virus and we wanted our neighbors and customers to be safe.”
To help cope with the economic effects of COVID-19, Ndiaye applied for and received an Open for Business Access to Capital grant from the City of Charlotte and put it to good use.
“It helped so much,” Ndiaye said. “I used it for rent, to pay staff, and to pay artists and sellers.”
A history of worldwide travel
Ndiaye’s path to business owner and community leader stretches back across the ocean. He left his home in Senegal, on Africa’s west coast, for Paris to attend college. After graduation, he took a job with an international company based in the South of France. “I was able to travel for work, but mostly it was just a corporate job that didn’t satisfy my love of African art.”And his love of African art runs deep.
In 1995, he left his job in France to live in New York City. At the time, he spoke no English. “I was self taught. I used the New York Times and videotapes to learn the language. But I wanted to learn more about this fascinating country, so I bought a van and hired a driver to take me all over the United States,” he says from his office that’s adorned with art and artifacts from every corner of Africa. “And we went everywhere.”
After opening a House of Africa on 120th Street in Harlem, Ndiaye was in Atlanta around the time of the Olympics. “I was attending an event at Morehouse College,” he says. “Making connections and all that. Charlotte was a complete surprise. But when I saw the storefront on Thomas Street, I knew I wanted to open a store there. Something about this place just said ‘home.’”
Finding a home in Charlotte
And so it was that thanks to serendipity, since 1996, Charlotte has been the home of one of the largest African goods importers on the East Coast in the House of Africa. And to Ndiaye, home means family. “I can’t say enough good things about the Plaza Midwood Merchant Association. We do everything together. It’s truly like one big family.”
“You must use this time well,” said Ndiaye. “Try to think of it as a gift. And also, a little prayer won’t hurt.”
Pape Ndiaye, owner of House of Africa on Thomas Street, is an Access to Capital Grant recipient. Through the grant program, the City of Charlotte is distributing $30 million in federal CARES Act funding to small businesses impacted by COVID-19. If you are a small business owner with a business headquartered in Charlotte, learn more about the Access to Capital Grant and apply today.