Business

A showcase event at Stotzky Park for Black entrepreneurs

Like many entrepreneurs, Kerrysha Pittman’s springboard to creating a new product began with trying to solve a personal problem. She struggled to find a lotion that adequately worked on her skin without leading to breakouts. 

She began experimenting, mixing ingredients to come up with something that worked for her.

That led her to develop hair oils specifically designed for itchy scalp.

Ms. Pittman took those initial breakthroughs and grew them into her own business — a line of natural, handmade cosmetic products called Natural ZAS. Ms. Pittman, a 2012 Riverhead High School graduate, said ZAS represents her daughter Zoey’s initials. She started the business about 2 1/2 years ago.

“I want to move on to natural shampoos and conditioners, baby body wash and shampoo and conditioner,” she said. “I want to eventually go into candles also. And just keep expanding as I go.”

On Saturday afternoon, Ms. Pittman displayed her products at a table set up at Stotzky Park. She was one of more than a dozen Black entrepreneurs who came together with pop-up booths during an event called For Us, Buy Us: Buy-Black Marketplace. The Riverhead-based nonprofit Our Future Generation, whose goal is to “encourage, uplift and promote our youth to become better citizens in their communities,” sponsored the event.

“It’s very inspirational,” Ms. Pittman said of her fellow entrepreneurs.

Organizer Dorothy Lewis said the goal was the provide a platform to showcase what members of the Black community in the Riverhead area are accomplishing. 

“It’s just awesome that we had such a good turnout for the first time,” she said.

The event grew largely from word of mouth and social media.

Ms. Lewis said the idea for the marketplace came to her one day after she left a store following a less than stellar experience.

“It’s just something that was a vision given to me that we need to start right now and focus on how we’re going to help our young people,” she said.

Our Future Generation provides scholarships to local students and hosts various events to help the community’s youth such a school supply distributions as well as helping to feed homeless people and senior citizens.

“We’re just trying to support our community in a positive way,” Ms. Lewis said.

As the sun splashed down on a summer-like afternoon, Ms. Lewis pointed out the different businesses stationed throughout the parking lot. Grayson Stokley, 34, of Southampton sat in a lawn chair decked out in a blue T-shirt and white hat showcasing his eponymous clothing brand’s logo: an elegant man in a suit. He had been creating designs for a number of years before deciding this year to branch out and begin his own company.

“It’s a diverse logo,” he said. “It brings class. Everything is about class and elegance. That’s why I built this company.”

Mr. Stokley displayed hats, sunglasses and more Saturday. He said he has glasses in stores in Southampton and East Hampton right now.

He said the event Saturday was a chance for people to “be great and to be seen.”

His advice to a young person starting out: “Start with a goal. Short-term and then move into long-term. Get a vision first. Write down your vision and then you work on that vision then you can expand to your business plan. And your business plan can be a small one. And then work on that business plan on each step. Take initiatives to be great.”

He pointed out that it’s easier now to promote a product through avenues like social media, where in the past advertising came with a heftier price tag.

Toward the back of the Stotzky Park parking lot, a group of young teenagers washed cars for Stokley’s Super Wash. Brian Stokley started the business about a year and a half ago, he said.

“We’re just trying to show a little love to the kids and show the youth that you can be whatever you want to be,” he said. 

He started the mobile car wash, which allows him to travel all across the East End to meet customers. He said he also does houses, decks and boats.

“Everything,” he said.

Mr. Stokley, 35, a Riverhead native, was selling used cars when he got the idea to branch out into car washing. He now has two trucks and a five-man crew, he said.

He said a lot of his business has been by word of mouth.

“We’ve been doing great this summer,” he said. 

He said Ms. Lewis had reached out to him about possibly coming down to Saturday’s event and offering car washes. He offered to hire some of the young kids to learn the ropes.

Dionte Brown, 25, who created She’s Pretty Rare Boutique, displayed a variety of women’s clothes and accessories at her booth. She started the business two years ago and aimed to sell fashion-forward and trendy clothing. She hopes to expand to shoes next.

Ms. Lewis noted that Ms. Brown, a Riverhead native, was still “in her mother’s womb” when she dreamed of starting a business.

“When I was in fifth grade,” Ms. Brown clarified.

She sells her products online and at various pop-up events like at Stotzky Park Saturday. She hopes to continue growing her business online and then build toward a storefront eventually.

“I just had my two-year anniversary pop-up shop and in November I’ll be having my fall fest pop-up shop [in Ronkonkoma],” she said.

Ms. Brown’s advice to fellow young businesspeople: “Keep going. It gets hard. Do your research and make sure you’re getting quality things and always be honest with your customer.”