Black-owned business expo in Chattanooga will showcase diverse products

The event takes place at Hamilton Place Mall this weekend

Cassandra and Montra Tucker, founders of Divine Purity Aurapothecary, pose at the 2023 Black-owned business expo. / Contributed photo
Cassandra and Montra Tucker, founders of Divine Purity Aurapothecary, pose at the 2023 Black-owned business expo. / Contributed photo

This weekend marks the third year of the Black-owned business expo at Hamilton Place mall, and with nearly 50 vendors, the event Saturday will have more than twice as many vendors as its inaugural event in 2021.

The expo aims to showcase opportunities for small-business owners and offer them a platform to test their wares in a mall setting, said Stacey Keating, vice president of communications for CBL Properties. One of the goals is to challenge the idea that malls are out of financial reach to small businesses and instead create opportunities for Black entrepreneurs to test their products and business models.

"The event is a great way for aspiring entrepreneurs to gain exposure and expand their customer base," Keating said in a phone interview.

 

In addition to the expo, the mall offers several other short-term, low-commitment lease options for aspiring entrepreneurs who might be ready to grow their businesses.

"You learn a lot when you take these incremental steps toward opening a brick-and-mortar store," Keating said. "You have all these different aspects -- more traffic in a mall, the opportunity to locate among nationally known retailers and the benefit of traffic passing by your store to discover your brand that you don't necessarily get elsewhere."

(READ MORE: Restaurant Scene: Five things to eat at Black-owned restaurants on M.L. King Boulevard)

Chattanooga entrepreneurs Cassandra Tucker of Divine Purity Aurapothecary and Brandy Madden of Penny's Lemonade have both attended the Expo since its first year.

Tucker and her husband sell at the Chattanooga Market regularly and are currently in the semifinal round for the Tennessee Valley Idea Leap grant. The couple started their business selling small batches of plant-based home goods and body care products about 12 years ago.

Today, they have products for sale in 12 different states and several downtown shops like Locals Only, Ritual + Remedy, Center MedSpa and Lucidity Float and Wellness Center.

She said the mall event helps them connect with new customers they might not otherwise reach.

"The expo offers us more visibility, more traction from people who frequent the mall, which is a different customer base for us," Tucker said in a phone interview. "Just because we're a Black-owned business, we don't necessarily know all the other businesses. So this is an opportunity to potentially collaborate with other businesses we may not know about."

"Plus," she added, "it's a great time. The music is good. It's just a really beautiful setup. I love it a lot. The creative energy is unmatched."

(READ MORE: Chattanooga to create minority business resource center with $1.4 million in pandemic relief funds)

Penny's Lemonade got its start about four years ago in 2019 when Madden's oldest daughter, Labreuna Merity, began selling lemonade and donating proceeds to local nonprofits. Once Merity left for college, Madden and her youngest daughter, Carmyia Trejo, decided to operate what was essentially a hobby at that time as a business.

Madden said the beverage company also pulls double-duty, providing a way for Trejo, who is in a wheelchair, to experience the working world and contribute to the family's livelihood.

Still operating out of their home for now, Madden said Penny's is poised for growth. Beginning in March, she is set to take classes at the Hamilton County Business Incubator, which will allow the company to move into one of the incubator's kitchens and get support and resources to grow the business.

This will be the third year Penny's Lemonade has attended the expo.

"Every time we do come, we always sell out," Madden said by phone. "Being a small Black business, it's kind of hard to get recognized. But being in a big place like the mall, it helps us. It gives us more exposure. People get to know our trusted brand, and we gain a lot more customers."

The 2024 Black-owned business expo takes place Saturday, February 24 at the Hamilton Place Mall. Find out more here.

Contact Jennifer McNally at jmcnally@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416.

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