WARWICK, RI — Shop RI, the annual Small Business Saturday expo at Crowne Plaza Warwick, hadn’t been open for a full hour before crowds of shoppers started showing up.
“About quarter of 10, the crowds started coming in,” said Sue Babin, Special Projects Coordinator at the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council, and chair of Shop RI, hosted by the RIDDC, U.S. Small Business Administration, Veterans Business Outreach Center, and Center for Women and Enterprise.
This year the event arrayed 157 vendors, 32 of them owned and operated by graduates of the RIDDC’s Self-Employment Business Incubator.
“We’ve rented about every room in this hotel,” Babin said, referring to the conference room spaces reserved for the Shop RI expo.
The reliably big crowds for the event are a welcome oasis for many small businesses, Babin said, near the end of what has been a very tough year, thanks to the lingering effects of the pandemic, the related supply chain backups and inflation-swelled prices for goods.
“This has been a really, really bad year for businesses,” she said. So any help small businesses can get can help keep them around, and preserve livelihoods. “It’s really important for people to be able to make a living,” Babin said.
Babin noted the expo’s vendors, all included on the event’s Small Business Saturday Shop RI Vendor List, provide the perfect solutions to fill out every kind of shopper’s Christmas list with unique and thoughtful gifts.
“It’s really cool to be able to purchase a gift that’s one of a kind,” she said.
Among the vendors were Jack and Karyn Carfagna, owners of Mr. C’s Old Thyme Scents, purveyors of specialty candles, wax melts and room sprays. The mother and son duo started the company about six years ago, when Jack, who is on the autism spectrum, was 14. The team, also graduates of the RIDDC business incubator, report their enterprise has been both profitable and provided a
“It kind of propelled us to do more and more shows,” and helped them better organize their business, Karyn said of their incubator experience. Running the business has worked well for Jack, whose interpersonal skills received a big boost. But not an immediate one.
“It was a very gradual thing,” Jack said.
Candle making, which involves a lot of weights, measures and formulas, has provided Jack a good background for his ultimate career goal as a lab technician. He’s in the lab tech program at CCRI.
“It’s a lot of the same skills,” Jack said.
One aisle over, Lisa Bazzle, owner of Sweet Deliveries in North Providence, was in the process of clearing out her stock. The former dental office manager faced a career crisis during the pandemic, deciding to stake out on her own as a baker. Now she’s a full-fledged baker, offering custom cakes, party favors, and cupcakes.
“I specialize in cupcake bouquets,” Bazzle said.
Warwick artificer Richard Boudreau, owner of ARTicles metal sculptures, was enjoying himself showing off and selling his creations to passersby. The Vietnam tank crewman, always one with a head for art, said his therapist suggested he indulge his artistic side while dealing with PTSD from his service.
The Cranston native said he’s always done art, ever since he was a kid, but didn’t realize it could be a career until he turned to it to deal with his stress. Now, he’s more relaxed, and his business helps him clear out artwork that would otherwise pile up around him at home.
“When I was young, they didn’t talk career with art,” Beadreau said. But that’s what he has now, including an exhibit with some of his really big creations at URI running for a little while longer.
In their usual space in the outer hall, We Be Jammin was down to the stock left on their table, with all their boxes empty, at 12:37 p.m., with about two hours left to go. Debbie Wood, co-owner of the Warwick-based business selling jams, BBQ sauces, marinades, salsas, salad dressings, ketchups with her son, Jason, also RIDDC alumns, had sold an estimated 750 jars of product.
Wood said Shop RI is, “The biggest show of the year.”
Across the aisle from Wood, Alana Almonte, artist and owner of Anchored Soul at 2190 Broad St. in Cranston,
was selling an array of ocean-inspired and ocean-sourced art work, combining sea shells and semi-precious stones to create flower sculptures and prepared driftwood and stone into similarly wistful decorations. Shoppers were appreciative of her art.
“I’ve definitely had a lot of great interest in my artwork,” she said, which includes preparing the stones using Reiki.
Almonte said people seemed to be making an exception to their recent homebody habits adopted during the pandemic.
The pandemic is still affecting people getting out, but not at Small Business Saturday,” Almonte said.
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