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Black Sunday Holiday Expo Showcases Small Businesses With Big Ambitions

OAKLAND (KPIX) -- The economic disaster of COVID-19 continued Sunday as five Bay Area counties braced for more business restrictions to kick in. It's been a struggle for many but some African American business owners in Oakland are showing what resilience really looks like.

The old Eastmont Mall in Oakland hasn't been a retail center for years but, out in the corner of the parking lot, the entrepreneurial spirit was alive and well Sunday morning. Black-owned businesses enjoyed one last day to sell their wares before a stay-home order goes into effect.

"They're trying to get money to try to lean toward that goal of getting a brick-and-mortar or storefront somewhere," said Cathy Adams, president of Oakland's African American Chamber of Commerce. "So we were on that track going there but this kind of hit everybody hard."

The annual Black Sunday Holiday Expo featured an outdoor marketplace of small businesses with big ambitions.

"We're getting ready to shut down! Thank you so much -- God bless you!" said Lori Watkins to a customer. She makes her living selling "The Lord's Helper Boutique," clothing and personal items.

"I'm just excited to have an opportunity out here and get this little bit of sale in," she said. "I'm excited! I want to sell the whole booth!"

She and most of the other vendors there have never had a store to call home. They get no government bailouts and most don't even have a website.

"Our biggest marketing is our one-on-one interactions at vendor markets like this," said Etezia Brown, "and because vendor markets are now going to be postponed until further notice, we're going to lose out on a lot of sales."

Brown is co-owner of "Worthy Beings," an inspirational clothing line bearing a timely T-shirt message: "Rih-zil-yentz." The company's young founders say it's not just a slogan to them.

"It's really a testament to us being able to keep going in spite of what we're going through and keeping your head up and staying positive on the light and what's to come after this and not to give up," Brown said.

City councilmember Loren Taylor co-sponsored the expo and said he knows the least powerful will be hit hardest by the economic fallout of the pandemic. He's proud of the way the African American community has carved out its own space in the business landscape.

"We are scrappy. We pull together," he said. "We're 'ingenuitive' in how we create the marketplace, create the economic exchange that exists."

All businesses, large and small, are looking for a way to survive now that the familiar routes are closed. Perhaps they can learn a lesson about staying optimistic from those who never had an easy path to begin with.

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