COLUMBIA — The Columbia Chamber of Commerce held its second annual Small Business Festival Thursday.
Several hundred people attended the event, which featured food, live music and other family-friendly activities.
“Small businesses are truly the soul of Columbia,” said Heather Hargrove, business development manager at Liberty Family Medicine. “We’re very fortunate to have a number of small businesses in the community that offer a variety of services and have a lot of talent, and maybe not everyone knows about them.”
In addition to his work for Liberty Family Medicine, Hargrove served on the committee responsible for planning this event. Liberty Family Medicine had a booth at the event. She says this is an opportunity for her small business to teach people that there is more to healthcare than they think.
“It gives us an opportunity to talk about direct primary care and to let people know that there are other ways to access universal primary care in a different setting than the traditional model,” Hargrove said. “It also gives us an opportunity to support other small business owners in the city, and we believe strongly in this community.”
Fifty-seven local small businesses had booths at the event, an improvement from 17 new small businesses that were featured compared to last year.
“COVID has hit our small businesses very hard,” said Matt McCormick, President of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce. “It was a struggle to get through those years and it was a struggle to recover. I think that’s why we’re seeing an increase in booths this year because it’s another way our small businesses can make sure they get the word out there.”
Small businesses make up 82% to 85% of businesses in Colombia, according to the Chamber. The chamber qualifies small business owners differently than the federal government, which describes a business with fewer than 500 full-time employees as a small business owner. In Colombia, a small business is defined as having fewer than 25 full-time employees.
“If we qualified it the same as the federal level, that would be almost every single company in Colombia,” McCormick said. “And for many other communities, that would be the overwhelming majority of their businesses as well.”
Hargrove said it’s an opportunity for community members to broaden their horizons when purchasing goods and services.
“There are a lot of businesses in the city that people don’t know exist because they might not have a store,” Hargrove said. “We have a tendency to get into the same routine and travel to the same area of the city. ‘I live here’, ‘I shop here’, ‘My children go to school here’, such things add to your understanding and knowledge of the wealth of small businesses here in Colombia.”
It was also an opportunity for small business owners to network with each other. Sally Fowler, owner of a therapy dog training company, attended the event and spoke to another pet company about working together.
“They are really friendly people and they were able to give me more insights into the collaboration I might be able to do with them in my dog training business.”
McCormick also emphasized the importance of small businesses in the Columbia community and encouraged community members to explore what’s out there.
“Anything you need, any service or merchandise can be done right here on site, especially with our small businesses,” McCormick said. “If you look at small business as an industry, it creates more jobs than almost any other industry. The importance that our small, locally owned businesses have to our community and the associated economic impact is astronomical in many ways.”