by Shawn Chitniss

SANTA CLARA (KPIX) — A line of shoppers wrapped around the Santa Clara Convention Center on Friday for the Holiday Fair that supports small businesses and craftspeople.

Local entrepreneurs say they have waited more than a year for an opportunity like this one.

“We’re always in struggle, every day is a struggle but I think things are starting to open up,” said Mitlalpilli Gonzales of Tochtli Cultural Wear.

Gonzales was one of 300 exhibitors on the first day of an event that offers customers a chance to shop locally, face-to-face with the small business owners.

San Jose Made is the company that organizes the event. It has developed an audience for businesses across the South Bay and has helped them pivot to e-commerce since COVID-19 took away the ability to attend pop-up events.

“We started reaching out to both makers and artists who did have successful e-commerce and others who were struggling with it,” said Kevin Biggers, chief strategist at San Jose Made.

Many of the exhibitors do not have their own permanent store so they depend on meeting people. Transactions that take place at these fairs are often quicker and eliminate the need for shipping.

“I think small businesses is really the heart of a community or the heart of a business community. When you’re supporting small businesses, you’re supporting small makers and helping them put food on the table and bringing the some holiday joy,” said Erin Salazar, who owns Little Shop of Florals.

Salazar says artists like her have not had many opportunities to showcase their work over the past year and half. She says it is a great time to shop local because the work that was made under pandemic lockdown is finally being seen, giving customers more variety.

“As a small business, you can’t really afford to give everyone a huge discount,” said Belem Rios, owner of Bee’s Little Shop. “You can actually get something that is handmade and organic and made with love and support someone local.”

Rios is grateful so many people wanted to come out and support small businesses on Black Friday. She says the entrepreneurial spirit to run your own business has been a part of her family for decades. She hopes people continue to seek out these products so the small-company ecosystem in the South Bay can endure.

“They have been struggling since COVID and stuff like that, they need our support,” Charlton Da Silva said after spending the afternoon shopping inside the hall.

The businesses that made the shift to online sales have managed the pandemic a lot better than those who remained dependent on in-person sales but all agree more of these gatherings will help them in the new year. The Holiday Fair continues on Saturday and Sunday at the convention center.

“The concept of Small Business Saturday is to keep the money and the resources here in our community,” Gonzales said.