On a brisk but sunny Saturday, shoppers across Louisville fanned out with a common mission: Shop small and shop local.
For Bettie Kelling, the mission played out in an unlikely place — aboard the Belle of Louisville.
The steamboat’s middle deck had been transformed into a holiday market festooned with garland and abuzz with cheery Christmas music.
Strolling the aisles early Saturday afternoon, Kelling passed by local entrepreneurs selling leather-bound journals and wooden cutting boards, then homemade nut-butters and pet bandanas.
Kelling marveled at the “creativity you can’t find on Amazon.”
"We need to support these people instead of big companies,” she said. “This is where the heart of the community is."
The market aboard the Belle was one of several "Small Business Saturday" events in the city. Earlier in the day, Mayor Greg Fischer stopped by another collection of small businesses gathered at Colonial Gardens in the South End.
Fischer noted the COVID-19 pandemic had hit small businesses particularly hard, but the “good news,” he said, is sales are up more than 50% from pre-pandemic levels.
Fischer encouraged Louisville shoppers to continue shopping small and local throughout the holiday season.
“The bottom line is, when you shop local, not only does it help our neighbors and our fellow entrepreneurs," Fischer said, "but that money circulates into the community much more effectively than if it goes off to some corporation.”
Kelling eventually purchased a flameless candle lighter from F.L.Y. Candles, a business Dierdre Barnes started in Dec. 2019, just weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic reached Kentucky.
Barnes and other business owners said opportunities to showcase their goods in person have been invaluable.
“I think everyone would love to shop local, but it’s all about exposure and knowing where to look,” said Tyra Morissette, owner of Mind Your Own Magic, a self-care apothecary.
Morissette was one of more than 20 vendors set up at South Fourth and Liberty streets for the MELANnaire Marketplace featuring Black-owned businesses.
Black entrepreneurs need community support throughout the year, and not just on Small Business Saturday, said Nachand Trabue, founder and chief impact officer of MELANnaire.
"It’s one thing to let them come and set up a table,” Trabue said. “It’s another thing to help them scale up and build generational wealth for their families.”
April Davis started her jewelry business, Azalea Flowers, six months ago. Selling her glitzy earrings alongside other Black entrepreneurs is meaningful, she said.
“Being around these uplifting Black women who are succeeding shows me that I can do it, too,” she said.
With R&B music playing in the background, Davis swung her hips side to side in a happy dance as she sold a pair of gold earrings to Makayla Shelby-Fields.
Shelby-Fields wore a rhinestoned "Black Lives Matter" facemask. Shopping with her mom, she said it was “especially important” for Louisville to support Black-owned businesses “because often they don’t get enough recognition.”
Mom and daughter walked out with several shopping bags each, with body butter, T-shirts and hair bonnets among their bounty.
Shanda Forish also ended Small Business Saturday with several bags in hand. A South End resident, she'd visited the market at Colonial Gardens to support her neighbors and to "help keep them going."
Heading to her car, Forish said she'd done some holiday gift shopping, but she admitted with a giggle that she'd picked out a few things for herself, too.
“It’s a gift to me. Does that count?”
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Louisville shops small, local on Small Business Saturday