The Edison Mall has partnered with existing Black-owned businesses inside and outside the mall to showcase them in the first of what organizers hope to become an annual Southwest Florida Black Expo.
On Friday through Saturday, April 9-11, inside the mall’s concourse, almost 100 minority-owned local businesses will be on display. The event had been slated for 2020 and postponed until this year because of the pandemic. Masks are still recommended to enter the mall, and some stores require them for entry.
Social distancing of six feet apart also will be encouraged.
By the way, here’s our March analysis:Reported COVID cases, deaths drop
The expo will do more than just showcase small businesses. It also will have professionals available to assist them with grant writing, devising business plans and other business tips.
There will be a kid zone with crafts and activities. There will be seminars and workshops and speakers geared toward both the new entrepreneur and the seasoned business professional.
There will be vendors, food trucks and more.
An opening reception Friday evening will feature talk show host Lee Pitts of Lee Pitts Live hosting in the mall’s food court.
“At Edison Mall, we believe in the importance of embracing the diversity and multicultural backgrounds of our guests,” mall general manager Brad Lunn said. “We need to celebrate the rich diversity our Southwest Florida community holds.”
‘De’Mar-Shawn’ on showcasing her two businesses
The event has Altemia Diggs excited, not just to showcase her two businesses in the mall. She established De’Mar-Shawn’s Makeover Studio salon in 1986. In 2010, she opened De’Mar-Shawn’s Academy. She moved the academy to the mall in what used to be “Glamor Shots” photography studio in 2019.
“Most people across the country know me as De’Mar-Shawn,” she said. “Not many people in the community know me as Altemia.”
On Friday, Diggs will open the salon in what used to be Regis, another hair salon. She also is partnering with the Lee County School District to train young and emerging hair stylists. Getting hair done by a student in training at the academy costs about a quarter of what it costs at the salon, which only uses licensed hair stylists.
“I’m able to teach them how to do a $10 haircut in 15 minutes,” she said. “When you go to the salon, those are licensed hair stylists. That same $10 haircut would be $45.”
Diggs said she hoped the expo would allow other Black small business owners the chance for more exposure.
“Behind the scenes, what the expo is about is giving the Southwest Florida area an opportunity for Black-owned businesses,” Diggs said. “A lot of people aren’t aware of all the different businesses that are Black-owned. It also gives the businesses the opportunities to educate and elevate their businesses.”
Diggs’ two businesses flank the mall’s interior entrance to Dillard’s.
“It was great for my business,” Diggs said of moving to the mall. “I always thought being in the community was the best thing for me. But after coming to the mall, it expanded my base. I am able to do all types of things now.”
When Diggs cut and styled hair in the Dunbar community, she served mostly Black clients, as few white customers ventured there for haircuts. Now that she is in the mall, she has access to a multicultural blend of clients.Your stories live here.Fuel your hometown passion and plug into the stories that define it.Create Account
Having the Black Expo at the mall, Diggs said, will showcase the other businesses to multicultural clients as well.
How the Black Business Expo will ‘Something Blue T.G.’
That includes Teasha Green, who in 2015 established the event planning business Something Blue T.G.
The pandemic forced Green to shut down for a few months. During that time, she furthered her education, revised her business plan and got ahead for when she could reopen.
“We do event planning,” Green said. “Weddings, birthday parties, special events, decorating. We find venues. My mother, she taught me everything. She moved away, so I branched off on my own.”
Last March, Green was three days from putting on a wedding when the pandemic forced the shutdown of the venue, and the wedding was postponed.
“I went back to school,” said Green, who earned two certifications in event planning, one from the New York Institute. “I’ve always had trial and error behind me. But when I reemerged on the other side, I would have my education behind me.”
The Black Business Expo would help her find a wider audience, she said.
“This is something new, something that’s fresh,” Green said of the showcase. “It’s something that’s going to promote us. I love it. We are all striving to be bigger than we can imagine. We want to grow our brands and be as big as possible.
“This is an opportunity to unite all colors. It shines another light on us.”
How the Black Business Expo will assist ‘Rick Rhodes Fashion’
Rick Rhodes hopes to shine some light on his business as well.
Rhodes launched Rick Rhodes Fashion, a clothing line for men and women, in November. He is hoping to open a brick and mortar store inside the mall. For now, he’s online only at rickrhodesfashion.com.
Rhodes sells a bit of everything: dresses, leggings, tops for women, and T-shirts, dress shirts and polos for men.
“It started picking up traction in mid-January,” said Rhodes, who has big aspirations for his brand. “Since then, it’s just grown. We’re more than a brand. We’re a lifestyle. Artists from out of town and locally. We’ll bring them in and livestream to Facebook and Instagram and on a Podcast. All of it will be centered around Rick Rhodes Fashion. That brings more exposure to us and makes this place a phenomenal destination.
“What inspired me to start this, was I wanted something that was clean and sleek. I didn’t want anything with lot of things and crazy designs on it. I wanted something where you could dress up, but also you could dress down.”
The Black Expo can only help, Rhodes said.
“It’s super huge,” Rhodes said. “This is one of the first ones in this area. It definitely highlights small, up-and-coming, minority-owned businesses. But it also highlights other businesses. It’s amazing to have this. You have this in a lot of other major cities. For us to have it here in Fort Myers, that says a lot. You have people who have experienced the Black Expo in Atlanta, Houston, D.C., Indianapolis. All these bigger cities. To have something of this magnitude here, it speaks volumes.”
Lee Ford of Fort Myers and Southwest Florida Impact Partners helped organize the expo.
“We’re in the business of trying to assist underserved communities,” Ford said. “That’s how I’m involved. I help various businesses get work for what they do. I assist them in getting qualified. If you are a computer programmer, and you had the opportunity go enter a contract with the city or the county, and your capacity is not quite where you need to be, I will assist you in increasing your capacity to get you to where you need to be.
“We’ll be having sessions with the different businesses offering different programs that will help them move forward. We’ll be talking about how COVID impacted them. What do they need to move forward? What kind of assistance?”