Website to sell Black Belt goods world-wide

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 28, 2005

Right now, somewhere in the Black Belt, somebody is making a quilt. Right now, somewhere in Oregon, someone is thinking, “You know, a quilt is something I sure could use.”

Thanks to a new program sponsored by the Alabama Tombigbee Regional Commission (ATRC) named “Blackbelt Treasures,” soon these two people will be able to meet and do business in spite of the distance between them.

The program is working in conjunction with the University of Alabama to develop a website which will promote and sell products made in the Black Belt. The Blackbelt Treasures team is currently traveling throughout the Black Belt looking for items that meet the program’s “standards of quality, originality, and creativity,” according to an ATRC press release.

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Those items will then be photographed and posted on the website for shoppers the world over to peruse and purchase. Blackbelt Treasures will also be opening a “gallery shop” in Camden so the items can be displayed and purchased in person. The gallery is scheduled to open on October 1, 2005, with the website due to be officially up and running on or near that date. Blackbelt Treasures Director Delia Brand said Wednesday that a temporary website should be posted soon, however.

“Blackbelt Treasures…is seeking to identify and cultivate emerging business as well s help market existing products which are unique to the region,” the press release states. “As a non-profit organization, the goal is to enhance the earning potential for entrepreneurs in the Black Belt as well as creating new opportunities for business development, using items and products made in the Black Belt.”

“This region is rich with talent and craftsmanship,” Brand states in the release. “From the region’s western-most counties to those in the South and East, artisans, craftsmen, authors, and business entrepreneurs are creating amazing products unknown to many outside the Black Belt region.”

Brand said that the program got its start after Linda Vice, an official with the ATRC’s Tourism Initiative, returned from an information-gathering tour of the Black Belt raving about the work being done by many of its residents.

“She came across many talented artists and many talented people making things,” says Brand. “That’s how the idea got started.”

Now Brand and the Blackbelt Treasures team, led by Judy Martin of Marion, is scouring the region for any goods that might pique consumer interest. According to Brand, who says she herself has recently spent time on behalf of the program in Sumter and Marengo counties, the team begins by approaching organizations with ties to the area, such as the area Chamber of Commerce.

“That’s the way we’re getting started,” Brand says, “by having meetings with key people who know the communities. We get together for a brainstorming session to find out who makes what, and then we get in touch with the individuals themselves and interview them, and find out what kind of products they might have.”

Products the website will seek to offer include “artwork, such as paintings, prints, sculpture; crafts such as pottery, baskets, woodworks; quilts; handmade furniture; literature by Blackbelt authors along with regional cookbooks; and food items that meet commercial sale requirements. Also offered will be themed gift baskets filled with items from the region, which will be an excellent way to share a range of products representative of the area.”

Brand says that the artistic and cultural contributions the Black Belt is capable of making are being criminally overlooked.

“We want to open people’s eyes to that,” she says. “This is an opportunity to open our region to the world and let it see the fabulous talent we have here. Artists, craftsmen, writers, food products…we felt like there’s so much this region has to offer and we should let the world know about it.”