At the second annual Small Business Festival on Thursday afternoons in Cleary-Shy Park, the scent of cotton candy warms colorful tents and brightly set tables.
Organized by the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, the event featured more than 50 small businesses promoting a variety of goods and services, from cotton candy to healthcare.
“This is a truly different event for the Chamber,” said Lisa Driskell Hawksby, co-chair of the Chamber’s Small Business Committee. “Most chamber events are chamber-to-chamber events and this is truly a community engagement event where we really intend to bring the whole community out there.”
The free festival included live music, food trucks, a drinks garden and a variety of events for children and families. The Small Business Festival was made possible by a number of sponsors including Hawthorne Bank and Liberty Family Medicine.
The number of participating companies has increased compared to the previous year. The Columbia Chamber of Commerce defines a small business as one with 25 or fewer full-time employees, and Driskell Hawksby said small businesses make up the majority of the chamber’s membership.
Cruz Chavez, owner of Sawdust Studio in Colombia, stood by a table with a cutting board and chatted with other business owners and event attendees. Chavez said the connection with the small business community in Colombia has been invaluable since he opened his woodworking workshop in 2020.
“Once I started, other business owners immediately came forward and became consultants, which I didn’t expect,” Chavez said. “I think they go out of their way to make sure I’m okay and that I’m making choices that will help me grow.”
Other sellers agree with Chavez’s sentiment, citing the collaborative community as one of the best parts of owning a business in the city. Samantha Boisclair, owner of party supply store Party Perfecty, hosts a table with a variety of party decorations.
“There’s a really great sense of collaboration in Colombia,” Bosclair said. “There is no competition, it’s about being successful as a whole community and growing together.”
Three food trucks and a fire engine were parked outside the pavilion, alongside snakes at the vending tables. A makeup stand was set up and children munched on shaved ice and free candy. Sheila Mullins was picking up her daughter from volleyball when they weathered the festival and decided to stay. Mullins said what drew her to the event is also what she loves about the town’s small business community.
“I love it because it’s not just for adults, usually the whole family can come and join in,” Mullins said. “I like that Colombia is so family-oriented.”
Driskell Hawksby said that both residents and business owners make up the small business community in Colombia.
“I think in general, the people who come to college towns have the affection, the affinity and the curiosity to come out there and meet new people and do things,” Driskell Hawksby said. “I think the small business community here understands that if they help each other, they can use that power, that community power, to do really great things.”