Small businesses, hit hard during the pandemic, get a boost from pop-up markets, peer support

With the holiday season now in full swing, business owners like Funmise Oladeji, who recently opened Taste of Lagos in downtown Hamilton, are supporting each other, while reminding Hamiltonians to shop and dine locally. 

'Hamilton already has a great backbone of supporting Hamilton,' says a co-founder of Blk Owned Hamont

Muka is one of several vendors at the holiday market hosted by Blk Owned Hamont and Fruit Salad Hamilton Edition on Saturday, Dec. 4. (Supplied by Sharifah Weir/Blk Owned Hamont)

As Funmise Oladeji and his wife Victoria Adefala pushed forward with plans to open their first restaurant this year, despite uncertainty caused by the pandemic, Oladeji says the support they received from the community, including fellow business owners, helped them keep a positive mindset. 

"Business owners give us tips and advice. [They] give us that extra push. [They] give us information on how we can be more efficient. We're getting first-hand experience from professionals," he said. 

They opened the Nigerian restaurant Taste of Lagos on Hamilton's James Street North in November, and now, especially as businesses continue to struggle from the economic impacts of the last two years, they want to pay it forward by mentoring other businesses. 

If you want to adapt to the new market, you have to build it.- Funmise Oladej, owner of Taste of Lagos

"We want to help people start up the way we started," he said. "We've been through different stages and if you want to adapt to the new market, you have to build it. So, we want to give that opportunity to people like us."

Oladeji said he is hoping to connect with people in the city of African descent who are looking to establish themselves in the culinary industry. "This is how we can push and make a difference in Hamilton," he said. 

With the holiday season now in full swing, many business owners like Oladeji and Adefala are supporting each other, while reminding Hamiltonians to continue to shop and dine locally. 

Ashleigh Montague, left, and Aby Montague, right, of Blk Owned Hamont, hosted a holiday market on Nov. 21 in St. Catharines, Ont. (Supplied by Sharifah Weir/Blk Owned Hamont)

Blk Owned Hamont is another Hamilton-based group that is built around supporting other local businesses. Ashleigh and Alex Montague, two of the three sisters behind the organization say one of the ways they are doing so in the lead up to the holidays is through pop-up markets — a trend that saw a rise due to the pandemic. 

"Right now, brick and mortar isn't necessarily sustainable, but being able to participate in markets feels like a community event and it's a great way to showcase what you have," said Alex. 

Blk Owned Hamont has hosted a few markets recently to help connect Hamiltonians with local businesses owned by people from Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) communities.

"It is important to support local businesses because that is the way Hamilton will continue to grow and become a very creative and inclusive community," Alex said. "I think Hamilton already has a great backbone of supporting Hamilton."

According to the sisters, engaging with both local business and "influencer" social media pages like theirs on Instagram is a great way to continue to support the community and get to know what products are available locally before buying from big box stores. 

Blk Owned Hamont hosts their final holiday market for the season, in collaboration with Fruit Salad Hamilton Edition, on Saturday evening at the Side Door Bar on Main Street West. The market will showcase vendors from both BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities, such as the queer Asian artist collective Muka, My Dad and Me Everyday Ornaments, tamales food vendors Mamey, jewellery and accessories brand Arewa Label and Real Fruit Juice, a clothing company. 

"This will be the most magical market," said Ashleigh. 

Last month, to encourage local holiday shopping, the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce hosted 'Hamilton Day,' the first one since the inaugural event in 1931. It saw over 600 local businesses participate, from cupcake shop Bitten on Locke to pet food supplier Chews Raw in Waterdown. 

"It's more important than ever to be mindful of where you're spending your money," said Hamilton Chamber of Commerce President & CEO, Keanin Loomis. "And being mindful of what the impact is to you by spending locally. Locally spent dollars reverberate through the economy here."

According to Loomis, local businesses were the hardest hit during the COVID-19 pandemic and they form the cultural fabric of Hamilton. They continue to need support, he said. 

"Think about the restaurants that you go to here locally that don't exist anywhere else or the small retail shops that you shop at that don't exist anywhere else. We've got to ensure that they are there, continuing to distinguish ourselves from any other community when this is all done." 


Cynthia Boyede

Freelance reporter with CBC Hamilton

Cynthia Boyede is from Nigeria and currently resides on the land of the Ho-de-no-sau-nee-ga, Anishinabewaki, Attiwonderonk and Mississauga. She is passionate about food, fashion, art, music, culture and stories.


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