Homecoming festivities are well underway at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) across the country. It’s time to reunite with old friends, party, and reminisce on the ‘good old days’. In the upcoming weeks, HBCUs will have their standard set of events –a parade, a football game, a pageant, some parties and a bazaar. And while the game is great, everybody leaves at half-time to go tailgate. Bazaars and open fairs are the heart of homecoming, where students and alumni congregate to satisfy their fish sandwich craving, or buy school paraphernalia, or just shoot the breeze with friends. These markets are also primary examples of the economic impact these schools represent for their local communities.

In the city of Greensboro, NC, the purchasing power of local HBCU North Carolina A & T is recognized and respected – the school’s homecoming has its own place in the special events calendar.  As many as 40,000 people participated in the Aggie Fan Fest last year, no doubt generating significant income for local vendors and the city through the sale of merchandise.  This year’s Fan Fest featured live entertainment, food and other goods at Greensboro’s War Memorial, and is a testament to effective collaboration between an HBCU and its local government.

Vendors can range from mom and pop operations serving up delicious down home meals to upscale beauty brands. And it’s not just outside organizations participating in these markets. Alumni and student entrepreneurs are taking advantage of the unique marketing opportunities during homecoming bazaars to reach their target audiences.

Ashley Semila, a graduate of Hampton University, is going back to her “home by the sea” to do just that. As the head of Fashcapade, a fashion public relations firm based in New York and Washington, D.C., she will host a pop-up shop featuring designers and stylists who will sell goods. “Basically the pop-up shop is a showcase for emerging apparel designers and online boutiques, “Ashley says. The concept is to promote these vendors while also highlighting Fashcapade’s consulting services.

The students at her alma mater are a key demographic for her services. “Hampton is where I got involved in fashion. I’ve always had a love for fashion, but didn’t express until I came to Hampton,”  she says. “We definitely set a standard for the HBCU community, and schools overall. At Hampton we were required to dress up.”  This meant that fashion-savvy Pirates were a great market.  Initially she considered hosting a pricey tea to introduce her business to potential customers, but she found that participating in the homecoming bazaar presented a cost-effective way to push the Fashcapade brand to a greater number of people.

No matter the wares being sold homecoming bazaars are hotbeds of entrepreneurial activity and supporting small and local businesses is embedded in the tradition of HBCU homecomings. Clutchettes, what are your favorite market vendors during homecoming? What makes them special? Use the hashtag #ClutchHC11 to let us know!

Special thanks to @ShakeetaMarie and @Crowniee who tweeted live updates of NCA&T’s homecoming on behalf of Clutch Magazine

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