The smell of incense and roasted sweet corn filled the air Wednesday evening at Father Hennepin Bluff Park on the downtown Minneapolis riverfront. Bikers and joggers passed by, but masked people who'd already reserved free, two-hour timed tickets lined up to get temperature checks at the entrance to the first Black Entrepreneur State Fair in Minneapolis.
Organized in just two months by Destinee Shelby, 28, who owns the custom dessert business Baked Brand LLC, the fair's intent is to lift up Black business owners. Running through Saturday, it features 50 vendors spread out throughout the park on Main Street across from downtown, including some who were just getting their businesses going when the pandemic hit or had recently lost work.
"With everything going on with George Floyd and the riots and the Black community, I wanted to give them a place to heal and support each other and uplift each other," she said.
Shelby had envisioned it as a small event for other food vendors who wanted to sell fair food after the Minnesota State Fair was called off. But the project blew up after she created a flier to promote it.
"It went viral because it had the word 'Black' in it," she said. "It was a lot of people on Facebook saying we were racist because we were having a Black State Fair and we were bringing segregation back." She issued a statement explaining that she was both Black and white; the Black community stood behind her. After a struggle getting a permit for the event, she partnered with Todd Gramenz from Black Lives Matter St. Paul, and also met with the Minnesota Attorney General's Office via Zoom. Then she worked with the Minneapolis Park Board on a detailed COVID-safe plan.
One of the vendors is Chelcy Hunt, owner of the custom-designed household and beauty-supply business Hunt for Variety. Her table was covered in jars of sweet-smelling bath salts, candles, nail polishes, body scrubs, and even a new line of kid-friendly lip balm made by her 7-year-old daughter Devianna. She started the business in 2016 with food and expanded to beauty products. This year, she threw herself back into the business after she was let go in February from a job in a work environment she described as toxic for her as a Black woman.
Hunt sold her goods at the Twin Cities Pride fest in Loring Park the past two years. She tried doing the online version this year, but it wasn't the same.
"People want to touch things and smell things," she said.
Jasmine Greene owns Roots of Ruth, a line of natural body products. The business was founded by her aunt in 2014, but she died two years later. Greene relaunched the business in March, just a month before losing her job. After just three days at the fair, she said she's made $1,500 in sales.
Beauty products may be essential, but so is roasted corn, one of the most missed foods since the State Fair shut down. Luckily, St. Paul-based chef Ebonie Temple, owner of Ebonie's Kitchen, is selling two kinds: jerk and lemon pepper.
Shelby said she plans to make the fair an annual event, with pop-ups every two months. The fair is open Friday from 4 to 8 p.m. and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Reserved two-hour timed tickets are available online through eventbrite.com.