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CLEVELAND, Ohio – Local business initiative The Real Black Friday (TRBF) offers more than just an expo this weekend. At Saturday’s event in Tower City Center, there was a big focus on shopping small – but the festival-like atmosphere also included live music, a fashion show and other activities.

The expo continues Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. as NBA All-Star Weekend wraps up.

The expo got off to a great start with thousands of attendees pouring into the shopping center. Men and women from more than 100 Northeast Ohio Black-owned businesses were stationed at Tower City, covering every kind of trade. You could find fashion accessories, personal trainers, snack foods, credit unions, candles, bath products, wellness centers, gyms and more. KeyBank, the presenting sponsor, gave out free merchandise.

Plenty of booths also incorporated basketball themes into their offerings. Basketball-shaped cake pops were available at one booth, while jersey-shaped koozies were available at another.

TRBF’s expo brought some huge crowds to Tower City, on every level of the building, for a unique, community-focused shopping experience.

Natika Polk, owner of women’s plus-sized boutique The Curve Vault, runs her business online and through pop-ups like TRBF’s business expo. Polk said she first got involved with the event in 2018, and returned for 2022 due to the success she previously experienced.

“It’s a super event,” Polk said. “It gives a chance to shine a light on a lot of Black small businesses that otherwise wouldn’t have a chance to be spotlighted.”

The event started in 2015, when organizer and TRBF founder LaRese Purnell created the supportive event for small businesses. The expo grew larger over the years, finally landing its biggest year yet at Tower City during NBA All-Star Weekend.

On Saturday, Kyerra Herbin was working a booth with her mother, Kelly, who owns Wristwerk Custom. The business creates single bracelets, along with stacked versions with two or more bracelets combined.

“There have been a lot of customers, in and out,” Herbin said. “We are doing pretty good. It’s definitely going great.”

Lifestyle business House of B&J Collection participated in TRBF’s expo for the first time this year. Named after owner Aisha Midgett’s late grandmothers’ initials, the brand aims to provide positivity-focused products for Black women.

“I went through a difficult transition last year, where I felt unseen, unmotivated, unappreciated. I felt like I didn’t have a purpose,” Midgett said. “I feel like women in general, but women who look like me, sound like me, talk like me, may be feeling the same way. I wanted to offer a space that really provided empowerment, encouragement and motivation.”

Midgett said the experience has prompted her to pursue vending spaces at other upcoming events.

“I think it’s truly amazing to just be in an atmosphere like this, that’s so liberating, so supportive,” Midgett said. “I think it’s a good opportunity to network and really just pour back into the community. That’s what it’s about.”

TRBF set some impressive goals for the expo, aiming for hundreds of thousands dollars’ worth of spending at various businesses. Based on the thousands of shoppers crowding Tower City on Saturday afternoon, that lofty goal seems attainable.

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