The smell of cotton candy wafted through the rows of colorful tents and brightly clad tables at the second annual Small Business Festival Thursday afternoon in Clary-Shy Park.
The event, hosted by the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, featured 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’s Small Business Committee. “Most chamber events are chamber-to-chamber business events, and this is really a community engagement event where we really aim to get the whole community out.”
The free festival included live music, food trucks, a beverage garden and a variety of events for kids 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 present has 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 the chamber’s membership.
Cruz Chavez, owner of Sawdust Studios in Columbia, stood by a table filled with cutting boards and chatted with other business owners and event attendees. Chavez said the close-knit nature of Columbia’s small business community has been invaluable since he opened his woodworking shop in 2020.
“When I first started, immediately other business owners reached out and became mentors, which I totally didn’t expect,” Chavez said. “I feel like they’ve gone out of their way to make sure I’m okay and making decisions that will help me grow.”
Other vendors echoed Chavez’s sentiment, citing the collaborative community as one of the best parts of owning a business in town. Samantha Boisclair, owner of party supply store Party Perfectly, set up a table displaying a variety of party decorations.
“Columbia has a really great spirit of collaboration,” Bosclair said. “There is no competition; it’s about succeeding and growing together as a whole community.”
In addition to rows of vendor tables, three food trucks and a fire engine were parked outside the pavilion. A face-painting booth was set up and kids were treated to free shaved ice and candy. Shela Mullins was picking up her daughter from volleyball when they drove past the festival and decided to stop. Mullins said what drew him to the event was also what he liked about the small business community in the city.
“I like it because there’s not just something for adults, there’s whole families that can usually come and join,” Mullins said. “I love that Columbia is really family oriented.”
Driskel Hawxby said Columbia residents and business owners make the small business community what it is.
“I think usually people who come to college towns have a love, an affinity, a curiosity to come and meet new people and do things,” Driskel Hawxby said. “I think the small business community here realizes that when they help each other, they can use that power, that power of community to do really big things.”