Vendor pop-up fosters minority owned business growth, success

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Fifty minority-owned businesses gathered at the Goei Center to bond over their shared experiences as Grand Rapids entrepreneurs and share their unique perspectives with the community.

All around the Goei Center on Thursday, May 18, community members walked table to table, connecting with businesses whether it was tasting coffee or smoothie samples, modeling clothing items or just having conversations with the owners. They connected with small, local businesses that many may not be familiar with.

Owner of Tasteful Vegan Kalene Mcelveen showcased her dairy free, gluten free, soy free and peanut free frozen desserts that she sells at her shop in Wyoming. She said being surrounded by her colleagues and other like-minded businesses had a “warmth” to it.

“You’re able to see a lot of businesses that you support and that you have been around for a long time, and be in a place where we’re all together,” Mcelveen said.

The Black, Indigenous, People of Color event was sponsored by Rende Progress Capital, which handed out small-business loans to 38 out of the roughly 50 businesses at the event.

It was the second semi-annual event for the pop-up, with a much better turnout than the last event. The first event in November 2022 fell on the first snowstorm of the winter, keeping out the bulk of the customers.

“I hope that due to the weather that it’s hopefully good marketing for people that can come out,” Mcelveen said.

Iroyanna Hogan Davis is the owner of Perfect Fit, selling professional clothes for younger people that still want to connect with fashion in their business life. It touts an everyday brand that sells jeans and casual wear as well as a kid’s line, wanting to be the “perfect fit” to make people feel beautiful in all shapes and sizes.

Inclusion is a large aspect of the brand for Perfect Fit, said Davis. She wants to see minority businesses speak for the minority markets they sell to and makes personalized jewelry about “black magic” and being “black and educated.”

“I definitely think that there needs to be a lot more representation and a lot more support,” Davis said. “We need to recognize in order to be a great flourishing and thriving community, it takes all of us.”

While Davis’ monetary goal was to make a minimum of $500 in sales at the BIPOC event, she also wanted to connect with other businesses and community members to see how to support them.

BIPOC Vendor Pop-Up Event
Scenes of the BIPOC vendor pop-up event in the Goei Center on Thursday, May 18, 2023. (Drew Travis | Travis |

Owner of Eden Coffee, Emmitt Bronkema came to the event to give out free samples. She wants to grow her business and create awareness that Grand Rapids’ west side has a coffee shop that stretches the bounds of coffee, making specialty lattes and drinks.

Bronkema said he was grateful to the pioneers of minority business owners that came before him. He wants to follow in their footsteps and be an example to pass on the torch and was happy to see other businesses at the Goei Center with the same goal.

“It’s very good, even if it’s just for minorities, to mix up populations and be able to meet with each other, connect with each other and be able to say, ‘I have that, and you might need this’ so we can build off each other,” Bronkema said. “Honestly, the goal is to make Grand Rapids a beautiful city and build with them. It’s like we were playing with Legos.”

BIPOC Vendor Pop-Up Event
Emmitt Bronkema of Eden Cafe puts up his sign at the BIPOC vendor pop-up event in the Goei Center on Thursday, May 18, 2023. (Drew Travis | Travis |

Community member Regenail Thomas was invited to the event by friends. He loved that the businesses took the time to come out and engage with the community.

“We know that these communities have built this country,” Thomas said. “Most of their intellectual prowess has been used throughout to help advance this country and put this country in the position to be the empire that we are today. [We are] tapping into that talent in a way that hopefully inspires people and energizes people. It only does what it always has, and that allows our country to create an environment that the rest of the world often tries to ignore.”

Thomas said historical inequities have impacted minority businesses and their ability to organize great business opportunities. The BIPOC event was in contrast to that history.

Community member Lynn Setsma said that she was just interested in browsing what the businesses had to offer the larger Grand Rapids community.

“I think it can make people aware of diversity in the types of products that are out there, as well as just being open to different ideas,” Setsma said.

BIPOC Vendor Pop-Up Event
Richard Haslinger looks at products from Amazing Essentials at the BIPOC vendor pop-up event in the Goei Center on Thursday, May 18, 2023. (Drew Travis | Travis |

Mcelveen wants this event to not only be a promotion for her business, but minority businesses all over the Grand Rapids area. She believes they can be just as prominent in the area as large chains.

“There has to be a way to promote the minority businesses that are present in [Grand Rapids] that you don’t typically hear about being promoted,” Mcelveen said. “Because there’s a lot of restaurant chains or things that people are more familiar with in terms of larger brands, so when small businesses are starting out in the minority, it’s harder to get that visibility. I think something like this gives them visibility, so people know instead of going to a Bath and Body Works, I can get my lotions and creams here.”

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