LOCAL BANK HOSTS INAUGURAL BLACK-OWNED SMALL BUSINESS EXPO | By Monique Harmon
February 25, 2020
Barclays US Consumer Bank’s Black Professional Forum hosted a black-owned small business fair Thursday, February 20th, that featured black-owned businesses from all over Wilmington and surrounding areas. Each business was unique, which eliminated competition. Businesses present included a men’s barbershop that makes their own products, a hair salon that makes their own products, cupcakes, an artist, and authors of books.
Yolanda Williams, assistant vice president of Barclays, said every Thursday in February, the company celebrates the black culture for Black History Month. She reached out to these businesses so that they would have a space to showcase their work and products.
“Barclays’ passion is to really help develop the community. We have a commitment to our community. We have a commitment to citizenship. This was a good event to actually merge the two of them together to expand our black-owned businesses,” said Williams.
Williams said that she hoped the attendees walked away seeing how successful black-owned businesses are. She said if they promote each other, they can do so much more for the community.
MeJah Books, a local bookstore, hosts book signings, poetry jam sessions, and other events. It also has a unique cafe in the corner and a living room.
Diane Barnes, the niece of the owner Ms. Em, said her aunt does work with men behind bars. She also has a background in interior design. She also has her own book titled, “Letters to Ms. Em.”
“It’s based [on] the letters she wrote a young man by the name of Rainn. It shows how they both basically learned from one another and they grew through one another through letter-writing,” said Barnes.
Brittney Shipp, a meteorologist from NBC10, said she thought the event was a great opportunity to support other small businesses in the area and it was great to see what they offer. She promoted her book, “The Meteorologist in Me,” which she wrote after being frustrated by not being able to find a book with a message that also focused on the weather that she could share with students of the schools she had been invited to speak at.
“I was really specific about what the main character looked like. I was specific about the classroom scenes. I wanted everyone to look really diverse within the book. It has weather facts about when water freezes. Water freezes at 32 degrees. The overall message is you can do anything you put your mind to, no matter what. It’s a message I don’t think we can hear enough even as adults, but especially for kids. Just to have something encouraging for them to hold onto,” said Shipp.
RESH Salon and Spa, is owned by Michael Flagg and Sherell Flagg. The salon makes products naturally for the skin and hair. They have lines for both women and men. They educate their clients because they want the best for their hair.
Anglean Walton, master stylist at the salon, said they have a filtered nozzle at their salon.
“When the water comes through the filtered nozzle, it also softens the hair along with our products that we use that are sulfate-free. It’s a whole experience that we’re doing. Not only are you getting good shampoo and conditioner that are sulfate-free, but you’re also getting filtered water. Then you get a steam treatment. It’s all to moisturize. It’s to cater to the scalp and hair,” said Walton.
She also advises her clients to drink water to have healthy skin and hair.
Maurice Gomes, CEO of Fancy Plants, started caring for succulents as a hobby because they were low maintenance. Then, he started making terrariums and sold them. He asked his friend, who is an artist, for advice on making them.
“When she made one, she didn’t know what a terrarium was supposed to look like. She was just doing her thing. My jaw hit the floor. It was so much better than mine. Since then, out of Fancy Plants, I take care of the plants and make sure the living element of the art piece does its thing and she just does the designs,” Gomes said. “Because she didn’t have any preconceived notions of what a terrarium is supposed to look like, I really feel that our art pieces stand out.”
Michelle Brown, realtor, and owner of Berkshire Hathaway Home Services said she started 21 years ago as a real estate agent. She is licensed in Delaware. She used to be an investor. She specializes in first-time homebuyer programs, new construction, relocation, and foreclosures.
“As a business owner, you have a sense of freedom. You can travel and put back into the community because you’re your own boss. Yes, you have to abide by the guidelines of state regulations and government regulations, but you have that sense of pride and ownership and what you can do for your clientele, for other vendors, [and] other businesses,” said Brown.
Brown said millennials and first-time homebuyers want to rent instead of purchasing a house because they don’t think they have enough money for closing or down payment.
“In order to offset that fear, we have programs with Delaware State Housing Authority where we have discounted interest rates for those that are four years in college or graduate school. Also, we have programs where you can get three percent, four percent, five percent of the sales price as your down payment and closing cost. Myself as the agent, I would negotiate with the sellers to give settlement help. That way, it’s less money coming out of their pocket,” said Brown.
Some of the business owners gave advice to African Americans who are thinking about starting a business one day.
“Come up with a game plan and just work it. I self-published this book. I went to a children’s conference and I was trying to get the book picked up and published. A lot of the people there didn’t see my same vision. They were like ‘No, we’ll pass.’ It’s easy to just have a few people pass and you feel like, ‘Oh, my idea’s not good enough. I knew for a fact, going to schools that people liked this book and wanted to learn more about this industry. Sometimes you have to take it into your own hands and just go with your instinct,” Shipp said. “With technology, they make it so easy to build a website. Amazon makes it easy to publish your own books. You would be surprised just networking, you can really just have your own business. The power is really in your hands nowadays.”
“Do it. I remember when I first started, it was very rudimentary designs. I was literally going to the dollar store and buying bowls and putting plants in them and putting rocks on top of them and seeing what would happen. It was so surprising for me that I’d be here doing this. I don’t know where this is going to go. I’m just going to keep one foot in front of the other. If the universe stops me, the universe stops me, but I’m not going to stop,” said Gomes.