116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — As a Black woman, Tasha Lard knows firsthand the challenges that minorities face in starting and running a business.
“I ran into so many different biases when it came to finding a space (to lease.) It was very discouraging, but I couldn’t stop,” she said. “But there are some who don’t understand they have to keep going, who do quit because of the racism they encounter.”
So when she started JD Beauty Supply at Pepperwood Plaza, she dedicated one corner of the shop to small business owners like her. Now, that corner of business cards has come to life for a second year in a new form: the Diversity Market.
“The first Diversity Market was to show that these things could be done in our community,” she said. “The second annual Diversity Market is even more important because now people know that our community and our vendors are resilient.”
It takes a village, and the village she often refers to in her work has proved that it understands the importance of sticking together to get their names out there as underdogs even in the small business community.
“People often say it’s the small businesses in America that keep it thriving,” Lard said. “These are the ones people don’t talk about and don’t see.”
Where: Pepperwood Plaza at 1067 Hwy. 6 in Iowa City
When: 1 to 7 p.m. on every Saturday through the end of July
Details: Find specialty foods, arts and crafts, jewelry and clothes, massage and metaphysical goods, gifts, community resources and more from 60 minority-owned businesses in the Corridor.
How it started
The idea for Diversity Market first started when Tasha Lard, Angie Jordan and Marlen Mendoza were trying to start a self-supported municipal improvement district (SSMID) like the one in downtown Iowa City.
“We wanted something similar — the open air market, market plazas, ways of finding businesses in the South District,” Lard said.
Last year, the first Diversity Market attracted about 30 vendors. This year, it has doubled to 60, retaining nearly all of its original vendors. This year, the market has added entertainment, face painting for children and other resources like a bookmobile and University of Iowa Mobile Clinic.
The market was designed with three goals for minority entrepreneurs, including women, youth and those in the Black, Indigenous, Latino, Asian, LGBTQ+, refugee, immigrant and returning citizen communities:
- To elevate, empower and connect them.
- To expand and maintain grassroots events that build communities up.
- To foster economic development opportunities and community resources for South District businesses.
“It is so important to continue bringing existing resources, established businesses, nonprofits, the city and county, along with residents throughout the Iowa City area together to build lasting traditions that elevate us all,” said Jordan.
In addition to layers of discrimination, a common challenge cited by minority-owned businesses starting up is getting their name out there.
“It’s getting my name out there to different cultures,” said Chevette Young, owner of Chevette Candles in Iowa City. “Knowing that it’s different people that will like my stuff, not just the African American people I am normally selling candles to — it’s really different.”
After working as a CNA for 25 years, she started the business on the side. After social media helped grow it two years ago, she expanded beyond candles to body butters, scrubs and more.
She returns after seeing significant returns at last year’s market.
Others vendors new to the market this year started before social media was a thing. Steve Brown, owner of East 2 West in Cedar Rapids, had a lot more leg work when he started 20 years ago.
“Being a minority, nobody knew me being that I wasn’t from Iowa,” he said. “I had to explain who I was, the merchandise I was selling — it was difficult.”
A native of New York City, he found a niche in Cedar Rapids for his line of urban clothing styles sourced from New York and Chicago. Now, he has found the opportunity to expand into a new market with Iowa City.
“As long as they continue doing this, they can count us in,” he said.
For others new to owning a business, the market has been a source of community.
“It can be hard without these opportunities to get your name out there,” said Marissa Good, owner of Goods by Marissa Good, a clay jewelry shop. “They really do want to help businesses and give them all the resources they’re able to.”
For the University of Iowa senior, the market has helped her expand her reach beyond Etsy, which can see slow sales at times. With the expansion, it’s allowed her to consider her potential as an entrepreneur.
But in helping businesses old and new, the weekly market brings an added benefit to shoppers as well: access to new cultures and the strengths that diversity brings to a city. The name of the market came not from what the founders wanted to achieve, but from what the South District already had with its residents and business owners.
As the market continues, they hope its growth will, too.
“This is important to them so they are seen,” Lard said. “Most of (last year’s) market vendors have grown from having a stand to having brick and mortar. This market gave them the push they needed to know they are capable of doing that, that they no longer needed to doubt themselves.”
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