By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
BRIDGETON – When Miranda Pierce walked into the spacious Alms Center at Union Baptist Temple Sunday and saw the flurry of African American vendors and patrons at her Culture Shop of South Jersey event, she said it was an emotional feeling.
This summer in the middle of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, her small business in Millville was shutdown. Her dream to bring small Black businesses and other cultures together in a regularly-occurring business expo began to take shape.
With 35 vendors in attendance and plans of taking the Culture Shop on the road in the near future, Pierce was seeing her dream come alive right before her eyes.
“It’s been going great,” Pierce said in the middle running a fashion show and tending to the needs of vendors and guests Sunday. “As hot as it is outside, I have chills because the turnout has been just amazing. I love seeing everybody from all of the cultures come together.
“We have our young entrepreneurs, a lot of startups and people who have been in business a long time. It’s a family affair. I love seeing the community coming together like this,” she added.
Pierce’s business, Embellish Treasure Club, a women’s accessories shop, operates out of the The Village at 501 N. High St. in Millville, where she runs it with her mother Joqueta. Other booths include Nateesha Blunt’s Total Life Changes wellness business; Safari Nativ handmade products; Ashley Morston’s body goods called the Skair Portfolio and more.
J.T. Burks sold shirts for his nonprofit Positive Vibes Community Group. He said he saw the event as a great way to work with the local community by building support for the youth organizations that has been recognized by county community leaders over past few years.
“Positive Vibes are better together,” Burks said. “We are raising money by selling our kids to help keep our program going and serving kids and their families.”
One friend who stopped by was Alexander Bland, president of the Cape May branch NAACP and new co-president of the Cape May-Cumberland County Young Democrats. Bland said events like the Culture Shop of South Jersey are great events to touch the community at the grassroots level.
“I’m here to be part of the community,” Bland said. “Events like this are needed.”
Levi Feeney has joined Pierce in documenting what happens at the Culture Shop. A local media professional who has been in business for 16 years, Feeney walked around with his camera to interview vendors.
“I saw there was a lack of representation for African Americans to tell their stories,” Feeney said. “There’s no real African American news outlets out here so that led me to getting into communications to help get their stories out.”
Feeney said he has appeared in commercials and became a member of the Screen Actors Guild, all while living in Bridgeton. He said he sees the Culture Shop as an extension of helping young people and others believe they don’t have to move from their communities be successful.
“My family’s here and I love my family,” Feeney said. “I believe you can be successful anywhere. I did it all from Bridgeton. I want to show youth in Bridgeton that wherever you are, you can make it.”
LaShelle Corley and her sons Calvin, 11, and Caleb, 6, attended the Culture Shop to promote their book “I Have A Lot To Say” at the event. She said the event was a great way to spread the word about the book.
Pierce said her next goal for The Culture Shop is to take it on the road and help more small businesses. She said some 50 businesses initially signed up for Sunday’s event, which she hopes to hold every two weeks for the rest of the year.
“I figure there are other businesses that were closed and needed that extra boost,” Pierce said. “I’m part of black business groups on social media and other business groups and I noticed all the businesses they were promoting was in North Jersey. I thought, why do I have to go to North Jersey to promote my business? I wanted to do something here.”
Pierce and her Culture Shop of South Jersey, has continued to make that difference with more to come.
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