Minneapolis business owners disappointed by ‘failed’ city-run Black business expo plan their own event

Black businesses bouncing back from failed expo

Black businesses bouncing back from failed expo

After requesting a public apology from City leaders and compensation for the money and time they say they lost by participating in the City’s inaugural ‘I Am My Ancestors Wildest Dreams Expo,’ Minneapolis small business owners decided to plan an event of their own.

Not only do they say they lost money because Expo’s turnout was so low, a few vendors also told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that local vendors took a back seat to talent brought in from other states.

Documents obtained by 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS now show that an out-of-state company played a huge role in planning the event and was allotted a huge portion of the event’s budget.

“We lost more than money that day. We lost faith in our city,” Markella Smith said.

After estimating she lost about $2,000 at the city-sponsored Expo, Smith — who owns The Dream Shop in North Minneapolis — took event planning into her own hands.

She was setting up Wednesday at Royal Foundry Craft Spirits for a Friday vendor show: ‘The Peoples’ Marketplace Mpls,’ “to create economic reclamation from an event that was supposed to be for us, but wasn’t,” Smith explained. “We’re bringing these Black-owned businesses to a Black-owned space.”

“I don’t say ‘reparations’ on purpose. I say ‘reclamation’ because it was ours to begin with,” added J. DeVon Nolen, who was assisting with event planning.

Opal Robinson, Ms. Opal to those who know her, owns Inner Peace Fragrance just down the road from Smith’s shop in North Minneapolis.

“So we sell what we call smell goods,” Robinson shared.

She will have a booth at ‘The Peoples’ Market’ on Friday, as she did at the city-run Expo.

“It was chaotic,” she recalled. “You just kind of had to figure things out. It was really, really frustrating.”

Just like Smith, Robinson reported leaving with a loss.

“I don’t necessarily want to go into the details of how much it was. However, it was substantial, because I hired a couple of staff as well,” she said.

A substantial amount of money appeared to be sent out of state. Although a City spokesperson said the city “is still finalizing the overall cost of this event against vendor invoices” in response to questions late Wednesday, documents obtained by 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS revealed about a quarter of the Expo’s budget, $242,000 was allocated to a consulting company in Alpharetta, Georgia to plan and hire for a Minneapolis-sponsored event with a self-proclaimed goal of “celebrat[ing] the Black lived experience in Minneapolis…”

“There are many many event planners here in the Twin Cities. I could name a number of them,” Robinson said in response. “I also am friends with quite a few as well, so I think we could have pulled off a wonderful Expo with just our local talent.”

Asked how she felt about it, Smith said, “Anytime I hear numbers like that, it’s disheartening, right? It’s disappointing.”

“I told myself I’m not gonna cry, but it angers me because of how many businesses could use those types of funds to grow their business,” she added.

There’s still been no response from the former head of the racial equity department who was tasked with putting the event together.

A spokesperson earlier in the week said the City wouldn’t comment until the Minneapolis Auditor’s Office wraps up an investigation into the planning of the event.

In response to questions Wednesday, a spokesperson in a statement said, the consulting bid was first opened up to 14 Minneapolis companies and after no response, they opened it up to everyone. Three out-of-state companies applied and the city’s Racial Equity Inclusion and Belonging Department ultimately picked the Georgia company, the statement read.

There’s still been no response from the former head of that department.

Results from the City audit are expected to be presented later this month.

Asked if his office has discussed the requested public apology and compensation, Mayor Jacob Frey sent this statement:

“I’m excited to see this event is happening and encourage our community to go out and support some incredible Minneapolis-based and Black-owned businesses. We have learned lessons from the recent Expo, and we look forward to our continued partnerships with businesses and vendors that call Minneapolis home.”

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey

‘The Peoples’ Market Mpls’ is scheduled for 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Friday.

Courtesy of Markella Smith