Martin Gilbert, president of Island HI FI, has been in business on Mercer Island for the last five years. Andy Nystrom/ staff photo

Martin Gilbert, president of Island HI FI, has been in business on Mercer Island for the last five years. Andy Nystrom/ staff photo

Island HI FI president discusses National Black Business Month

“Being out here, like, I’m a unicorn. You don’t see that many Black people,” said Mercer Island business owner.

Martin Gilbert would like to see more Black-owned businesses thriving throughout the nation, especially in the Pacific Northwest.

The president of Island HI FI relocated from New York to plug his business into Mercer Island five years ago, and it’s currently the only Black-owned business with membership to the Mercer Island Chamber of Commerce.

With August tagged as National Black Business Month, Gilbert, 45, discussed what it’s been like running his business on the Island, which he heard about from a client during his stockbroker days in Manhattan.

He feels that it’s important to recognize National Black Business Month.

“Being out here, like, I’m a unicorn. You don’t see that many Black people,” he said. “Sometimes it’s tough for people to digest. They’re like, ‘How long have you been working for them?’ I’m like, ‘I own it,’ you know, that kind of thing.”

World Population Review notes that of Mercer Island’s 2021 population of 25,918 residents, 1.15% of them are Black. According to Africanamericangrants.org, ​Black-owned businesses in the United States account for about 10% of U.S. businesses and about 30% of all minority-owned businesses.

Despite having to close his showroom due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gilbert has built a robust online presence to continue selling high-end audio equipment — products that range from speakers to headphones for music aficionados and gamers. It’s taken a massive amount of guts, time and effort to establish his one-man operation, and he feels lucky to be offering quality brands to his tech-savvy and smart customers.

Along with providing top-notch audio equipment, Gilbert is tuned into building relationships with customers on the Island. Sales have lessened because of the pandemic, but Gilbert is forging ahead and focusing on products that are more tech-based, simple and compact while packing the usual dynamic and effective punch. After customers place orders online, the products are drop-shipped to their homes.

Gilbert moved to Mercer Island with his former girlfriend to begin their new journey.

“I wanted to start this business here, because in New York, in Florida, California, it has a lot of high-end audio businesses. Of course, New York is not getting any cheaper,” said Gilbert, who once owned a business installing car stereo equipment and alarms during his high school years. As an adult, he became familiar with today’s audio products after making bulk purchases from store owners who were going out of business.

He discussed what the Island has to offer: “I just thought it was a great landing spot. I wanted to be in a small town where I could be accessible from Seattle to Bellevue, and people love coming over here. I think people have been absolutely warm and receptive to my presence out here.”

Gilbert appreciates the Chamber of Commerce, notably former executive director Laurie Givan, for its support, and he has connected with some strong partners along the way.

Aside from spending his time in the business realm, Gilbert may dip into some city service down the line.

“I’m very astute in politics and at some point I may run for city council,” he said.

For more information on Island HI FI, visit https://islandhifi.com/.


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