In October 2020, Discover Peoria—the new brand of the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB)—announced the launch of its Black-Owned Peoria campaign. The initiative kicked off with a spotlight on 21 businesses, all focused in the areas of tourism and hospitality.
“Peoria’s Black-owned businesses are essential cornerstones of central Illinois’ unique business and hospitality landscape,” explains JD Dalfonso, Discover Peoria president and CEO. “We want to aid in bolstering them so everyone has an opportunity to thrive—and to help play a stronger role in the recovery of our local economies.”
A More Inclusive Platform
The idea for the project, according to Dalfonso, stemmed from a Discover Peoria self-assessment conducted in 2019. “What came out of that was a desire to become more known, available to, and supportive of businesses that span our entire community and may not have had the understanding of what our CVB provides on their behalf.” The concept developed further when Daurice Boneta came on board as community engagement coordinator.
“We continued the conversation about the best strategy to address quality of life issues for Black residents,” recalls Boneta, who spearheads the Black-Owned Peoria campaign. “The truth was that the average Black resident had no idea who or what Discover Peoria was.” To bridge that gap, the organization reached out to nearly two dozen Black-owned businesses, offering a one-year CVB membership and an opportunity to share their stories with the public.
Providing a more inclusive platform to showcase these businesses is a vital step toward improving the community’s overall quality of life, Dalfonso suggests. “Our mission is to establish the Peoria area as the most desired region in the country for wholesome, memorable experiences. We can’t do that if we’re not supporting the whole community.”
The businesses now highlighted at DiscoverPeoria.com are a mix of brick-and-mortar establishments, event-based businesses and online ventures. “These entrepreneurs have a passion to deliver quality goods and services with customer satisfaction,” Boneta notes. “They have largely relied on word-of-mouth advertising to grow their business, and most pursue business as a family. Black business owners have overcome a plethora of obstacles to become successful.”
In a year riddled with turmoil and challenges, Discover Peoria wanted to strike out in a new direction marked by unity and fairness, says Boneta. “Now is always the right time to do the right thing.” Though barely two months old, the Black-Owned Peoria campaign has already had a positive impact.
“We’ve heard back from the majority of businesses saying they have received increased sales because of this partnership,” Dalfonso explains. And while the initial cluster of businesses are focused on tourism and hospitality, they plan to expand into other industries and demographics, including the Latinx, Lebanese and Asian communities. “Our diversity is a strength that must be showcased for everyone to see and experience. We are very excited about the possibilities and growth of this project.”
The initiative is set to continue indefinitely into 2021, with highlighted elements taking place throughout the year to help increase awareness. “This is just the beginning of a great story,” Boneta suggests. “Since this is unchartered territory, we are learning as we go. Please be patient as you give us your feedback and suggestions. We are better when we work together!”
“Our focus is not how we represent diversity as we see it today,” Dalfonso adds, “but how we can showcase what we see our community becoming.”
Of the 21 businesses currently highlighted online, eight women-owned businesses are introduced below. Check out their complete stories—and the other 13 businesses—at discoverpeoria.com/black-owned-peoria.
620 N. Sterling Ave. (309) 685-7695
Originally hailing from Los Angeles, California, Thena “Angel” Kyle was first introduced to the world of business watching her uncle run a trucking company in the 1950s. Meanwhile her oldest sister was “a sharp dresser” and would become the inspiration for her future business. After retiring from hairdressing, Kyle opened Angel’s Place in the fall of 2010, providing affordable women’s apparel and accessories with occasional men’s items. “Meeting beautiful people [and] being able to give a smile, a dress or a pair of shoes is what I enjoy most about running my business,” Kyle says.
Blown Away Balloons
Facebook: @BlownAway Balloons (309) 648-2636
Shatiya Alexander is the first-generation owner of Blown Away Balloons, which specializes in designing and coordinating balloons for special events, providing drop-off and pick-up services. The proud mother of two four-year-old daughters, Alexander credits her own mother for pushing her to become an entrepreneur. “I make my own schedule and I like being my own boss,” she explains, adding that she enjoys working with people and her biggest goal is to satisfy her customers. “But one of my biggest challenges is expanding and getting my name out.”
Mo Tru Travels
[email protected] (309) 415-1459
A proud Bradley University alumna, Arien “Mo” Wallace has a passion for travel—and for doing it at a lower price. She opened her travel company in June 2019, planning and providing affordable travel packages for families. Wallace is a trained and certified expert on the Holy Land, as well as all things Disney, and previously spent 20 years at Calvin Coolidge Middle School in Peoria. She believes learning about different cultures is one of the best parts of traveling. “The world is my classroom,” she declares.
Relaxed N Refreshed
2128 W. Rohmann Ave. (309) 267-9955
After years of working at Caterpillar, Virginia Clark took classes at Illinois Central College to become a licensed massage therapist. “My passion is to teach people to relax and pamper themselves,” Clark explains. “I love meeting people and seeing the results of my care when they leave.” In addition to massage, she also provides basic facials and pedicures. She is available for one-on-one sessions as well as parties, and will pack up her equipment and travel as far as Chicago or St. Louis to share a sense of wholeness and caring. “Massage therapy is basically cheap healthcare,” Clark notes.
Riley’s Vegan Sweets and Eats
1233 W. Brons Ave. (309) 688-5990
A young, up-and-coming entrepreneur, Riley Greenwood opened her business in March 2017 and has loved every minute of it. “Total creative freedom to create my own recipes—it’s like magic and chemistry,” she explains. While focused on creating 100% vegan baked goods from scratch using organic ingredients, she caters to all special dietary needs—vegan, soy-free, nut-free, etc. Greenwood’s unique offerings also feature family-sized meals, and her business location boasts a cupcake and coffee lounge. Looking to the future, she hopes to expand to offer a vegan quick-pick menu that would rival national fast-food offerings.
Sweetcakes by Rachael
1233 W. Brons Ave. (309) 688-5990
Starting out of her home kitchen with just an oven, a folding table and a mixer, Rachael Parker has built a business that’s endured for 30 years. Her small bakery is focused on custom cakes created specifically to the client’s liking. “Just tell me the idea and we will try it,” she explains. Besides being a successful entrepreneur, Parker is the current Peoria County Clerk and a member of the Black Business Alliance and Minority Business Development Center. She loves what she does, and yes, the sweet tooth runs in the family—she is Riley Greenwood’s mother and shares space with her business, Riley’s Vegan Sweets and Eats.
Uniquee Tees Inc.
1200 W. Main St., Suite 25 (309) 839-0282
Shundra Parker’s business started as a hobby with a single machine. Once she began connecting with customers from all different walks of life and hearing their stories, she fell in love with the idea of bringing people together. Her storefront in Campustown specializes in custom embroidery and screen printing, but Uniquee Tees is more than a t-shirt shop—the business also produces banners, brochures, advertisements and postcards. “My focus is to make your creativity come alive,” Parker explains. “My passion is to help every person be expressive.”
World on Wheels
worldonwheelspeoria.com (309) 453-0916
After discovering Segways at Chicago’s Grant Park, Lynnette Lee launched World On Wheels in 2007, seeking to create a fun, family-friendly experience in Peoria. She has faithfully promoted her business and the community to visitors ever since, matching this unique mode of transportation with current and historical information from a tour guide. Lee takes first-time Segway riders and turns them into pros in minutes, patiently teaching safety measures so they can genuinely enjoy their rides along the riverfront and in downtown Peoria. She offers options for corporate functions, private parties and groups of up to 50 people as well as gift certificates, perfect for the holidays, available on their website. PM
Visit discoverpeoria.com/black-owned-peoria to read their complete stories and check out the other 13 featured businesses.