CINCINNATI — After seven holiday seasons, Halle-Bration, a holiday celebration with a focus on Black-owned businesses grew into a two-day event that drew nearly 2,000 shoppers and 65 vendors in 2019.
Those attendance numbers for the event held inside New Vision United Methodist Church last year, while impressive, almost led to the cancellation of this weekend's eighth annual Halle-Bration, according to its chairperson, Kathye Lewis-Norman.
"We weren't sure we could do it at all," Lewis-Norman said.
When Lewis-Norman first met with the committee of church volunteers at New Vision Church in Paddock Hills in June to begin planning the 2020 Halle-Bration, Ohio's statewide COVID-19 stay-at-home order was just being lifted. Lewis-Norman said she and her fellow volunteers had no illusions that the pandemic would be over by the time the holiday celebration was set to take place this Friday and Saturday inside the church.
"So, we decided we were going to take the plunge and take that hard pivot," she said. "We called our vendors and asked them if they were able to take their business virtually."
Twenty-five vendors who participated in last year's Halle-Bration committed to being part of this year's virtual event, Lewis-Norman said. The Greater Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce, along with local Black-owned internet technology companies such as Easley Blessed Media then offered vendors website support and online sales training.
This year's celebration takes place at accelevents.com from 4-8 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday.
Lewis-Norman said participating vendors' experience with online sales ranged from those such as the owner of Kitabu Children's Books, whom Halle-Bration's sponsors helped build it a new website, to those such as Shawnte Barker, owner and designer of Stylish LeNese Boutique in Madisonville.
Barker started her boutique online two years ago after moving back to Cincinnati from New York, where she lived for 15 years. Barker is a 2003 graduate of the University of Cincinnati's College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning.
Barker opened Stylish LeNese Boutique's brick-and-mortar location at 4905 Whetsel Ave. a little more than a year ago. She said her store focuses on clothing customization and original style designs for women and young girls.
"The pandemic has been really hard on my business, being able to stay open, being able to pivot in times to do what people need," Barker said.
Barker met Lewis-Norman when Stylish LeNese Boutique participated in Halle-Bration last year.
"She's been a really great resource for me and my business, getting to meet different people," Barker said of Lewis-Norman. "Being part of her event again this year, even though it is virtual, it is allowing me as a newer business great exposure."
Barker said she also was happy to help other local Black-owned businesses by sharing her previous experience selling online and promoting her business on social media platforms.
"Being a woman and a black-owned business and to come back and really shine and really be able to be a part of the community has been very important to me," she said. "I really like how it (Halle-Bration) shows unity, how all of the businesses can come together and really support each other."
Beyond buying clothing and books online, Lewis-Norman said people will be able to browse food from local eateries for delivery or pick up and enjoy live music throughout each day of the virtual event.
"We have a full line up on Friday and Saturday of entertainment fun," she said.
This year's Halle-Bration will still feature one in-person event though, Lewis-Norman said. From noon-1 p.m. Saturday, children will be able to enjoy a socially-distanced visit with Santa Claus in New Vision's parking lot, located at 4400 Reading Rd.
"We are having a drive-through Santa pick up for toys for the children because we've always had our Santa and the toys," Lewis-Norman said.
For more information about this year's Halle-Bration visit the event Facebook page.