In a year when some businesses have shuttered or put sheets of plywood over their shattered glass windows, Tina Dixon Spence cut a white-and-gold ribbon in the doorway of her Buddha Babe boutique in West Mount Airy on Saturday.
On Small Business Saturday, she officially upped her game and opened her luxury studio, specializing in accessories for babies and toddlers.
“This is the beginning of our journey,” Dixon Spence said.
The steady stream of customers exceeded all her expectations. “Whether it was to support a Black-owned business, or because I’m a small business owner, or because it’s a vibrant part of the city, I don’t know. I just know I’m appreciative.”
She had intended to host neighbors, elected officials, longtime supporters, and relatives for a grand-opening celebration last Wednesday. But she had to cancel due to the spike in COVID-19 cases.
“Things change very quickly. Everything is last minute. Everything is unpredictable. We have to learn to adapt to change,” she said. “We have to look forward to the future.”
After she cut the ribbon, Dixon Spence said she had a lot of “nervous energy. I’m excited and hopeful. I believe it’s the right time for this business. Babies and children symbolize hope and love. If there’s nothing else we can hang on to these days, that’s it.
“You can’t look at baby products and not feel all warm and fuzzy.”
She launched her business, first as e-commerce only, in 2014 kind of by accident. Her son, Baron, was 4 months old and a big drooler. “I wasn’t satisfied with any of the bibs I bought. Some even gave him a rash,” Dixon Spence said, adding that she didn’t like the tired, typical, boring duck designs either.
After finding natural, organic fabrics in bright, cheerful patterns, she bought a sewing machine, without a clue how to sew. She studied YouTube videos to learn.
She started making bibs and blankets for friends and relatives. “Then I pivoted to opening my own business. And I have not looked back,” she said. She came up with the name Buddha Babe because “when my son laughed as a baby, he looked like a laughing Buddha. It stuck.”
Baron, now 7, has also served as an adviser of sorts. “He’s my fit model,” she said. “I try things on him when I’m launching a new product. He’s always the first to try a product. He tells me if it doesn’t feel right or fit right. Like I made these harem pants and they kept getting caught in the car seat. He told me there needed to be less of a drop, less material. Kids will tell you the truth.”
Dixon Spence, now 48, didn’t quit her day job working as an executive assistant to CEOs of corporate and nonprofit firms until June. In July, she picked the storefront on Emlen Street near West Mount Pleasant Avenue to open up shop. She now has four employees.
On Oct. 28, two days after police shot and killed Walter Wallace Jr. in West Philadelphia, triggering protests and curfews in a year marked by racial and law enforcement reckoning nationwide, vandals broke her glass front door.
“We pivoted from renovation to repair,” she said. “I have sensitivity and understanding as to why it happened, but I felt personally attacked. I felt violated and disrespected as a woman of color and a small business owner. It was an opportunistic act. There’s no reason I should have been targeted. They don’t know who owns this store.”
Saturday morning, customers formed a line outside because only six people were allowed inside at a time. Buddha Babe offerings include bibs, blankets, T-shirts, swaddles, burp cloths, teething rings, toddler scarves — and protective masks in 11 prints and four sizes.
The bibs are sunny and whimsical in floral flamingo and unicorn garden patterns. Some of her T-shirt logos: “born into this mess,” “A Black Woman Created This,” and “Be the Good.”
In the future, when restrictions due to COVID-19 are lifted, Dixon Spence said she will host group sewing classes, project-based kid parties, and community events.
For now, she is happy just to open her doors. “This is a bright and wonderful corner,” she said. “People walk by and drive by and they are instantly happy.”
Granted, she frets about the future in this daunting, unstable time in history. “Of course, there’s worry there.