By JONATHAN HEETER, Virginia Gazette
WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (AP) — Nekeya Boyd grew up from an early age with a love of cooking passed down from her great-grandmother.
That love drove Boyd to her career, which started with a catering business and eventually moved into a restaurant, Nekeya’s Seafood Cafe, in October at 455 Merrimac Trail in Williamsburg.
But as a new business, Boyd’s biggest challenge came from growing her customer base.
“You work hard, and you try to get the word out,” Boyd said. “That’s the biggest challenge.”
Boyd and other Williamsburg businesses recently received a boost.
Local NAACP leaders, the Greater Williamsburg Chamber of Commerce and local economic development authorities have partnered to spotlight minority-owned businesses in the Historic Triangle over the past few months. The group pops up at local businesses, provides a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a collaboration certificate and, they hope, introduces or re-introduces the business to the community.
“It means a lot to have them do this because it actually helped,” Boyd said. “It helped grow my clientele, because people truly didn’t know we were in that location.”
On Nov. 19, the partnership visited Edge District businesses Life Beauty Supply, Jazzercise, Discover Teas and Parties Galore Cakes and More. On Dec. 19, they visited three more Edge District businesses: Legacy Labs, Fine Cutz Barber Shop and All Things New Beauty Salon. They have days scheduled in January and February to spotlight businesses on Bypass Road and Richmond Road.
The events also introduce small business owners to the economic leaders in the community with whom they may never have connected.
Lawrence Gholson, president of the York-James City-Williamsburg NAACP Branch, and wife Ti’Juana Gholson came up with the idea as a way to spotlight small businesses.
“It means a lot when that city’s mayor or economic development director comes and says, ‘Hey, thank you. We’ve got resources for you. Come see us. Here’s our card.’ (The businesses) never had that experience before,” said Ti’Juana Golson, a small business owner herself with her husband.
“A lot of times, small business owners get busy doing business that they’re not even thinking about. So what we’re doing is we’re trying to bridge that gap. We’re bringing them right to your front door. Here’s your mayor, your economic development director. This is what they look like. Form a relationship.”
Ti’Juana Gholson said many minority-owned businesses may have never had the opportunity for a ribbon cutting or grand opening. So she and her husband set out to find businesses owned by minorities in the Historic Triangle. She said there was no database of such businesses she could find, so they had to essentially go door-to-door to build out their list. A small list has now ballooned to more than 120.
“Being a business owner of color myself, I know firsthand that not much attention goes to this group, so this initiative is to shed light on those who are just as much deserving as others,” Lawrence Gholson said. “These businesses have survived, thrived and arrived all during the pandemic.”
Teirra Caines, owner of Parties Galore Cakes and More, has felt the challenges of operating a business during the pandemic. Caines’ path to becoming a small business owner came from baking a cake for her mom’s birthday. Orders flowed from there, and Caines went from operating a bakery out of her garage to her store in the same shopping center as Nekeya’s Seafood Cafe at 455 Merrimac Trail.
But fewer people host parties and celebrations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Caines said the attention from the initiative has helped draw new customers to the business.
“There’s not a lot of foot traffic in the area, so the spotlight meant a lot,” Caines said.
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