Terrance Frazier walks out of the 90-degree afternoon into City of Gods, his shop on Hollins Street. He greets Idris, his business partner, and a group of friends who are sitting quietly at the far end of the store. His friends don't get up to greet Frazier, acknowledging his presence as if he never left.
"We have a reality show pilot that we're filming," Frazier says. "We're doing 20 hours and we're trying to sell it to two networks. So, we have 10 different personalities that are here in the store. Everyone has a different flavor they add to the store."
City of Gods, a fashion boutique that is also known for its community-oriented events, has, for some, become the unpretentious standard of urban sophistication. "A lot of people don't see what we do behind the scenes," Frazier says. "People come in and it seems like we sit around and just chill. I think Jay Z said it best when he said, 'the hardest part is making this look easy.'"
It wasn't easy. Frazier grew up in Queens, New York. His father specialized in photography dye transfer, an art where color is manually augmented in photographs. Photography dye transfer was practically destroyed by Photoshop and similar programs. His mother was a music teacher.
As a young man, he was introduced to fashion in Manhattan, where in the '80s he was exposed to urban wear and fashion lines such as Yves Saint Laurent and Missoni, along with Coca-Cola advertisements, all of which inspired him, trained his eye, and eventually allowed him to bring the SoHo aesthetic to his own store in Baltimore, where he came to study history at Morgan State University.
Eventually, it was fashion and not history that brought about the connection to the community that he craved.
In 2009, during the recession, he pitched in with two partners—each of whom had his own line—to create City of Gods, in Hollins Market. The name was inspired by the Brazilian movie "City of God," which details the struggles of two young men growing up in a tough neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro—one becomes a drug dealer, the other an artist. But Frazier and his partners wanted to stress the idea that everyone has a god within, so they added the "s," pluralizing and democratizing the divinity. The customers caught on to the "sanctuary" vibe and the store became known as a hip and "conscious" space—used in the sense as "conscious hip-hop," rap by progressive and sometimes spiritual artists.
"People really like the 's' on the end of God," Frazier says. "People say, 'Hey! I have God inside of me. If you have something that's going on that's good and great, let's go.'"
Frazier is popular around the market. Walking out of the store, he is greeted by passing residents and neighboring business owners. "This is an average area. A lot of people think it's the hood," he says. "It's really not 'the hood' because it's between homeowners who are doctors, nurses, and lawyers, but there are drug dealers too. It's really gentrified. A block away there are white homeowners living in 300 and $400,000 homes, and then the next block over it's 1960s leftovers from the riots."
As he steps into Mi Ranchito Restaurant, City of Gods' next door neighbor and "business BFF," he indulges the constant demands of his friends and community. He hands out $6 to two friends who need change to order beverages, he talks with the owner of the restaurant who approaches his table to say hello, and shakes hands with about 10 other people.
"We're doing things that people have never actually done before, which is bridge a lot of gaps," he says. "We get national exposure, but we're still in the community, we're accessible. We put on events that attract a lot of different groups of people. We may get skateboarders, we may get trap music [artists] . . . This isn't just an 'urban sophistication' brand, this is something that crosses into artistry, touching poetry and authors."
Frazier is a natural figurehead for the store—which, it becomes clear, is as much a movement as a retail venture—because of his open demeanor and flowing conversational skills. "I'm like the evangelist of City of Gods, so I spread the good message," he says. "Somebody else is going to spread the good parties, but we all come together on a common ground."