FREDERICKSBURG, VA — The founders of the Virginia Black Business Directory and Fredericksburg Black Restaurant Week have discovered an untapped market for their services. They are hoping to build on their success in 2020 by hosting the inaugural Virginia Black Business Directory Expo in Stafford County on Oct. 17.
The organizers, Ernisha Hall and Tracey Hall, want the expo to serve as a place for Black business owners to promote their services and products and for attendees to learn about many of the Black-owned businesses in the state. They plan to mine the hundreds of businesses listed in their nonprofit Virginia Black Business Directory to attract business owners to the Saturday, Oct. 17 expo, which will run from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
In January, the Halls launched the Virginia Black Business Directory, an online platform that lists Black-owned businesses in Virginia and the Washington, D.C. area. Earlier this month, their business directory, with more than 400 businesses listed, proved helpful in attracting restaurants and stores to the inaugural Fredericksburg Black Restaurant Week, which ran Sept. 1-7.
Area residents visited Black-owned restaurants and shops in the city of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania and Stafford counties in large numbers. The event culminated with a food truck festival in Stafford on Sept. 6 that attracted more than 1,000 people. Del. Joshua Cole, who represents Fredericksburg and parts of Stafford County in the Virginia House of Delegates, helped to organize the food truck festival.
Fredericksburg Black Restaurant Week was held partly in response to the lack of culinary diversity at the Fredericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce’s “Taste of the Region,” according to Ernisha Hall. The Chamber of Commerce described Taste of the Region, which ran Aug. 3-31, as a way to support “locally-run or owned business.”
“If you hear something called Taste of the Region, you would expect it to be representative of the entire region,” Hall said. “If you look at the region that the Chamber covers, it was not representative of various cultures.”
By holding Fredericksburg Black Restaurant Week, Ernisha and Tracey Hall — who also own and operate Niray LLC, a website, graphic design and branding business in Fredericksburg — viewed their efforts as taking advantage of an opportunity that the Fredericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce missed.
“There was no Black representation at Taste of the Region. There were no people of color,” Ernisha Hall said. “When I looked at the list, they were all members of the Chamber. What that means is that the Chamber needs more diversity.”
The Fredericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce had not responded to a request for comment at the time this article was published.
For the inaugural Virginia Black Business Directory Expo, an outdoor site in Stafford has been selected, but Hall said they are still waiting on final approval. The expo will be a socially distance-friendly event. There will be 6-foot tables, table linens and chairs provided to each vendor. Vendors can apply online to participate in the expo.
Attendance to the expo is free, although community members are asked to reserve their free tickets on Eventbrite so the organizers can anticipate the number of attendees.
Food trucks also will be at the expo for attendees to enjoy food while they network with the vendors and other participants.
“This event is a wonderfully affordable and effective way to market your business,” the expo website says. “We are looking for vendors who are ready to present their brand, while also networking and building positive relationships.”