COLUMBIA - The Columbia Chamber of Commerce hosted its second annual Small Business Festival Thursday.

Several hundred people attended the event which offered food, live music, and other family friendly activities.

"Small business really is the soul of Columbia," Heather Hargrove, business development manager for Liberty Family Medicine, said. "We are very fortunate to have a number of small businesses in the community that provide a variety of services and have many talents, and maybe not everybody knows about them."

In addition to working for Liberty Family Medicine, Hargrove was on the committee in charge of planning this event. Liberty Family Medicine had a booth at the event. She says for her small business, this is an opportunity to teach people that there's more out there than what they think when it comes to medical care.

"It gives us a chance to talk about direct primary care and let people know that there's other ways to access full service primary care in a different setting outside the traditional model," Hargrove said. "It also gives us a chance to support other small businesses entrepreneurs in town, and we fully believe in that, in that community."

Fifty-seven local small businesses had booths at the event, which is an improvement of 17 new small businesses being featured compared to the year before.

"COVID hit very hard for our small businesses," Columbia Chamber of Commerce President, Matt McCormick, said. "It was a struggle to get through those years, and it's been a struggle to recover. I think that's why we're seeing an increase in the number of booths this year, because it's another avenue that our small businesses can take advantage of to make sure they're getting the word out there."

Small businesses make up 82% to 85% of Columbia's businesses, according to the chamber. The chamber qualifies small businesses differently than the federal level does, which says a small business is a business with fewer than 500 full-time employees. In Columbia, a small business is qualified as a business with fewer than 25 full-time employees.

"If we were to qualify it the same as the federal level, that would almost be every single business in Columbia," McCormick said. "And for many other communities, that would be the overwhelming majority of their businesses as well."

Hargrove said it was an opportunity for community members to expand their horizons when it comes to purchasing goods and services. 

"There's many businesses in town that people don't know exist because they might not have a bricks and mortar location," Hargrove said. "We have a tendency to get in the same routine and travel in the same area of town. 'I live here,' 'I shop here,' 'My kids go to school here,' those kinds of things. Coming out to this broadens your understanding and knowledge of the wealth of small businesses here in Columbia."

It was also an opportunity for small business owners to connect with one another. Sally Fowler, who owns a therapy dog training business, attended the event and talked to another pet business about working together.

"They're really friendly people and they were able to give me some more insight on collaboration I might be able to do with them with my dog training business."

McCormick also emphasized the importance of small businesses in the Columbia community and encouraged community members to discover what is out there.

"Anything you might need, any service or any good can be taken care of right here locally, especially with our small businesses," McCormick said. "If you look at small business as an industry, it creates more jobs than almost any other industry does. The importance that our small, locally owned businesses bring to our community and the economic impact that has, is astronomical in so many ways."

To report an error or typo, email news@komu.com.