The smell of cotton candy wafted down rows of colorful tents and brightly clad tables at the second annual Small Business Festival on Thursday afternoon at Clary-Shy Park.
The event, hosted by the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, showcased more than 50 small businesses promoting a wide variety of goods and services, from cotton candy to health care.
“This is a really different event for the chamber,” said Lisa Driskel Hawxby, co-chair of the Chamber Small Business Committee. “Most chamber events are chamber business to chamber business events, and this is actually a community-engagement event where we intend to really bring the entire community out.”
The free festival includes live music, food trucks, a beverage garden and a variety of events for children and families. The Small Business Festival was made possible by a number of sponsors, including Hawthorn Bank and Liberty Family Medicine.
The number of businesses in attendance increased from last year. The Columbia Chamber of Commerce defines a small business as having 25 or fewer full-time employees, and Driskel Hawxby said small businesses make up the majority of membership in the chamber.
Cruz Chavez, owner of Sawdust Studios in Columbia, stood next to a table piled high with cutting boards and chatted with other business owners and event attendees. Chavez said that the close-knit nature of the small business community in Columbia has been invaluable since he opened his woodshop in 2020.
“When I first started, immediately other business owners reached out and kind of became mentors, which I totally did not expect,” Chavez said. “I feel like they’ve gone out of their way to make sure I’m doing well and I’m making decisions that are going to help me grow.”
Other vendors echoed Chavez’s sentiment, citing the community of collaboration as one of the best parts about owning a business in the city. Samantha Boisclair, owner of party-supply store Party Perfectly, hosted a table showcasing a variety of party decorations.
“Columbia has a really great spirit of collaboration,” Bosclair said. “There’s no competition; it’s all about succeeding and growing together as a whole community.”
In addition to the rows of vendor tables, three food trucks and a fire truck were parked outside the pavilion. A face-painting booth was set up, and children munched on shaved-ice and free candy. Shela Mullins was picking her daughter up from volleyball when they drove past the festival and decided to stop by. Mullins said that what drew her to the event was also what she likes about the small business community in town.
“I like it because there’s not just something for grown-ups, there’s usually whole families that can come and join in,” Mullins said. “I like that Columbia’s really family-oriented.”
Driskel Hawxby said that Columbia residents and business owners alike make the small business community what it is.
“I think typically folks that come to university towns have an affection, an affinity, a curiosity to come and meet new people and do things,” Driskel Hawxby said. “I think the small business community here understands that when they help each other they can leverage that power, that community power to do really great things.”