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Hispanic Heritage Festival Helps Support Small Businesses

Colorful maracas are hanging in a cluster.
Lorena Medina
This will be the 7th festival Centro Latino of Iowa has thrown for Hispanic Heritage Month, but the first one online. "Hopefully, this could be a way of experimenting and innovating different ways of doing business," said director Ramon Calzada.

The Council Bluffs Hispanic Heritage Festival this year will be more than just music and fun. It’s also going to serve as a way to support Latino small business owners.

Centro Latino of Iowa will hold its first online festival for this year’s Hispanic Heritage month. It will have a main stage where they will feature local actors and music, among other things. At the bottom of the screen, people will be able to shop at local Latino-owned businesses in a digital marketplace.

Ramon Calzada, the director of Centro Latino, said he wanted to do a virtual marketplace as a way to promote small Latino businesses during the pandemic when many have had to stay closed or limit the number of people allowed inside.

"That would be a place to explore, especially during the pandemic where everything is closed because you can't have too many people at the place or promote yourself," Calzada said.

He said he hopes attendees will explore the digital marketplace as if it were a real set of booths, and that people will look around at all of them. Calzada said he thought this was a creative way to help stifle the blow of the COVID-19 economy.

"This year, because of the pandemic and how it affected us, we found a different way or creative, innovative way to gather," Calzada said. "I know it's a challenge for all of us, but at least we try."

As of right now, Calzada said at least 15 Latino businesses have signed up for a virtual booth at the festival. He said he expects more to sign up before the festival gets underway Sunday.

One of those businesses isIsland Clothing Brand. Louan Melendez is the owner. She worked with Centro Latino to make T-shirts for the festival. She said it is her dream to run her own business and people have already reached out to her through the festival’s website.

“I am super excited, I didn’t realize it would have such an impact. I am very happy," Melendez said.

It is free to attend the festival and the virtual booths will stay in the online marketplace into November.

Kassidy was a reporter based in Des Moines