The walls and counters inside Box Brown Imports (225-0908), which opened at 518 N. Second St. in July, are brimming with products telling the stories of Richmond's black history. A book about the black laborers who built Richmond's architecture, African Accents incense burners and a T-shirt that calls for the reclamation of the slave burial ground on Broad Street are just a few items stocking the shelves of the Jackson Ward shop. "The growth of Richmond right now is all from what slaves did and what they built here," says owner Alex Lawrence. "We're just riding on their backs, so why not honor them?" He named the store after Henry "Box" Brown, a 19th-century slave who escaped to freedom by shipping himself from Richmond to Philadelphia in a wooden crate. Behind the counter at the store, Lawrence sells a picture book called Henry's Freedom Box, along with Brown's autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown.
Eventually, Lawrence hopes to become fair-trade-certified, but for now he stocks his shop with fair-trade goods from developing countries and locally made products from Richmond artisans. "I tell people this is the inside of Henry's box," Lawrence jokes about the 700-square-foot store that is two blocks from the Black History Museum and Culture Center of Virginia, a few feet from the Maggie Walker House and two doors down from the Hippodrome Theater. He hopes foot traffic from the Hippodrome will help with business. "That's why I jumped in the middle of it," Lawrence says. "The goal was to come in with the Hippodrome Theater and just kind of liven this area up."