'Shop the Flea Waterloo' to showcase Black vendors, celebrate community

An event held Sunday in Waterloo, Iowa will uplift Black small businesses and the community.

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Organizers of a community vendors market wants patrons to show their support for Black small businesses during Shop the Flea Waterloo on Sunday.

Nia Wilder, a city councilwoman and owner of Spark Lot, said she believes in Waterloo and wants to help connect small businesses with customers and showcase the community during Sunday’s second Shop the Flea Waterloo.

Nia Wilder, owner of The Spark Lot at Waterloo's Crossroads Mall. Photo courtesy of Wilder.

“We’re encouraging everyone to shop local and get that dollar to stay in the community,” she said.

Shop the Flea Waterloo will be held from noon-5 p.m. on Sunday, June 5 at the Waterloo Convention Center, 200 W. 4th St. Wilder is expecting a few hundred customers. The event is part of several community events in June highlighting education and financial literacy.

“We’ll have a little bit of everything for everyone,” she said.

The event is two weeks before Juneteenth, a federal holiday that commemorates when the last enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, were informed on June 19, 1865, that slavery was abolished in U.S. – two years after the Emancipation Proclamation in 1963.

“We are celebrating Black freedom, Black knowledge and Black growth,” she said.

In addition to clothing, jewelry and more, patrons during Shop the Flea Waterloo can buy food, beverages and raffle tickets. The event will also feature live music from Dj-Jaz E.

Shop the Flea's Beginning

Wilder said Howell Dixon, the Urban City Magazine/Shop the Flea coordinator and founder, inspired the Waterloo event. Wilder said she got to know Dixon when she was a guest on his Urban City podcast a few years ago, and the two became friends. In February, Dixon brought Shop the Flea to Waterloo, and the idea emerged to expand it to a quarterly event in Waterloo.

“The importance of The Flea is to bridge the gap between community and small businesses,” Dixon said. “This gives our local business community the opportunity to reach new customers outside of social media and to help build on their customer service, marketing and overall customer base.”

Dixon said he has held the vendor events in various locations and different markets over the last few years, including at Merle Hay Mall, Jordan Creek Town Center, and other venues and locations around Des Moines.

“This has given Shop the Flea vendors an even more diversified customer base. This was the same concept and idea to start the Flea in Waterloo,” he said. “This gives (vendors) the opportunity to connect with a new customer base and to bridge the gap between businesses from Des Moines and Waterloo.

Dixon said vendors who have participated have experienced “major growth.”

“We hope to continue this platform to keep this networking opportunity going and eventually start to add onto this with online classes, workshops, business consultation, and even funded programs to continue to help build up our minority and small businesses throughout Iowa,” he said.

Dixon added: “Like they say, your network is your net worth. If we can continue to build together, we will thrive and reach more levels of success together.”

Shop the Flea Waterloo

Spark Lot at Crossroads Mall in Waterloo. Photo courtesy of Wilder.

Sponsors of Shop the Flea Waterloo so far include Urban City Magazine, Saucy Creations by Sausha, Safe Care Learning Center, 24/7 Blac, Barkarinc, Shift, Experience Waterloo, Kut Kings, Ferguson Team Realtors, CVFAC Expo, Shop Black powered by Rethink Iowa and Spark Lot.

Vendors who are part of Spark Lot, market, sell and grow their businesses at Wilder's store inside Crossroads Mall. The coronavirus pandemic has sparked a growing number of Black small businesses that Wilder wants to see grow into big businesses.

“The pandemic gave people inspiration to find creative ways they might not have (thought) about,” she said.

Wilder opened Spark Lot last November. Her 40 resellers are paid bi-weekly, and about 93% are Black-owned and Woman-owned.

“We’ve been doing pretty good,” she said.

Wilder said if anyone has a home-based business and wants to have their products sold at Spark Lot’s brick-and-mortar location, she is seeking additional vendors.

“We need each other,” she said.

Spark Lot at Crossroads Mall in Waterloo. Photo courtesy of Wilder.

Other events planned for June include those by the 24/7 Black Leadership Advancement Consortium. Wilder is on the marketing team.

“We’re all coming together for a common cause because we all have the theme of celebrating Black people,” she said.

Shop the Flea Waterloo

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