The smell of cotton candy wafted through rows of colorful tents and colorfully set tables at the second annual Small Business Festival Thursday afternoon at Clary-Shy Park.
The event, hosted by the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, featured more than 50 small businesses promoting a wide range of goods and services, from cotton candy to healthcare.
“This is a truly different event for the Chamber,” said Lisa Driskel Hawxby, co-chair of the Chamber’s Small Business Committee. “Most chamber events are chamber-to-chamber events and this is actually a community engagement event where we intend to really bring out the whole community.”
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 Hawthorn 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 Driskel Hawxby said small businesses make up the majority of the chamber’s membership.
Cruz Chavez, owner of Sawdust Studios in Colombia, stood by a table covered with cutting boards and chatted with fellow business owners and event attendees. Chavez said the connection between small businesses in Colombia has been invaluable since opening his lumber business in 2020.
“Once I started, other business owners immediately reached out and became mentors, which I absolutely didn’t expect,” Chavez said. “I feel like they went out of their way to make sure I was okay and making decisions that will help me grow.”
Other vendors echoed Chavez’s view, 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 Perfectly, hosted a table with a variety of party decorations.
“Columbia has a really great collaborative spirit,” said Bosclair. “There is no competition; It’s about being successful as a whole community and growing together.”
In addition to the rows of counters, three food trucks and a fire engine were parked in front of the pavilion. A face painting stand was set up, and children munched on shaved ice and free candy. Shela Mullins was picking up her daughter from volleyball when they drove past the festival and decided to stop by. Mullins said her interest in the event was also what she likes about the small business community in the city.
“I like it because it’s not just for adults, there’s usually whole families that can come and get involved,” Mullins said. “I like that Columbia is so family-oriented.”
Driskel Hawxby said that both Columbia residents and business owners make the small business community what it is.
“I think that people who come to college towns usually have an affection, an affinity and a curiosity about meeting new people and doing things,” said Driskel Hawxby. “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.”