CINCINNATI — The biggest problem Cincy Soul organizers faced as they prepared for the fourth annual food festival on Fifth Street in front of Fountain Square wasn't necessarily a bad one.
"It’s at the point that we’re either going to have to find more room near Fountain Square or we are going to have to move it," said Julian Rodgers, owner of J. Rodg Productions and one of Cincy Soul's founders.
Rodgers, in a partnership with the Cincinnati USA Convention & Visitors Bureau, launched Cincy Soul in 2016 as a one-day festival to showcase local, minority-owned businesses. Cincy Soul, in turn, was part of the bureau's Vibe Cincinnati initiative, which the bureau created to promote the city as a diverse place for visitors from around the country.
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Twenty-six food vendors took part in the inaugural Cincy Soul, which was located on Fifth Street between Vine and Walnut streets on the last day of the Cincinnati Music Festival that year. Fast forward to this weekend: More than 40 local food vendors and 20 retailers will line the same area of Fifth Street from 9 p.m.-2:30 a.m. Friday, 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Saturday and noon-9 p.m. Sunday.
Rodgers said there were dozens more local business owners who had wanted to participate in this weekend's Cincy Soul, which overlaps with the 2019 Cincinnati Music Festival at Paul Brown Stadium.
"I had almost 80 vendors who wanted to participate this year," he said.
One of the biggest reasons for Cincy Soul's success is the approximately 90,000 people expected to come Downtown to see stars such as Maxwell and Mary J. Blige perform at the Cincinnati Music Festival. Jason Dunn, who oversees Vibe Cincinnati as the vice president of inclusion for Cincinnati USA, said Cincy Soul's vendors served more than 30,000 people last year.
"The goal is to get more people to attend and to increase the consciousness of the programming," Dunn said of the mission behind Cincy Soul and Vibe Cincinnati.
While Cincy Soul might have run out of room to grow this year, Vibe continues to expand. It sponsored a free Cincinnati Music Festival kickoff concert featuring jazz musician Julian Vaughn on Wednesday at St. Aloysius Educational Center on Reading Road. Vibe, along with music festival sponsor P&G, also invited comedian and nationally syndicated radio host Rickey Smiley to host a live broadcast of "The Rickey Smiley Morning Show" Friday morning on Fountain Square.
Vibe also has added a variety of empowerment programs and meet-and-greets throughout the Cincinnati area before and after the music festival ends each day.
"We just created kinds of programming so it complements the Cincinnati Music Festival crowd," Rodgers said, referring to Cincy Soul and other events that Vibe Cincinnati has established to cater to music festival attendees. "We've also added a Sunday Service from 10:15 a.m. to noon on Fountain Square. Just kind of bringing church to it for a little bit."
Rodgers added he's already looking ahead for ways to deal with Cincy Soul's growing problem.
"It's great," he said. "We want the Queen City to shine on a national stage."