Some Utah Black businesses lost thousands over All-Star Weekend. Here’s why.

A planned showcase for businesses ran into several snags before the doors opened.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) A photo-op for All-Star Weekend, on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023.

Roody Salvator, chef and owner of Utah’s Makaya Caters — a Haitian food truck — figures the NBA All-Star Weekend cost him more than $7,000.

“I feel confused, lied to and in a hole,” Salvator said. “My experience in Utah as a Black-owned business: It has not been the worst, [but] it hasn’t been the best.”

Both the city and the NBA promoted the Feb. 17-19 weekend, with its influx of some 125,000 basketball fans, as an economic boom for Utah’s capital city. During the weekend, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver estimated the game’s economic impact to Salt Lake City would be $280 million, a record for the league’s showcase event.

Salvator was banking on an opportunity offered to Black-owned businesses during the weekend: The All-Star Bazaar.

The event, like many that weekend, was outside the NBA’s official All-Star Weekend schedule. It was pitched, on its website, as a business expo for some 50 businesses, along with a pop-up with a Black art gallery and displays on Black history and a living wax museum. The website describes it as a program of the nonprofit Beloved Community.

The selling point to vendors, as Salvador recalled it, was that “we’re gonna represent, show the visitors that there are Black people, Black businesses in Utah and that we’re thriving. … We’re pushing for the Black excellence movement.”

The person organizing the bazaar was someone Salvator had dealt with before: Cleopatra Balfour, who helped organize Utah’s Juneteenth celebration for the last two years, as well as similar work for the Utah Arts Alliance, and was responsible for all the paperwork for this event. She encouraged Salvator and other vendors, he said, to get ready ahead of the busy weekend — and that those who participated would see more than 40,000 people come through the bazaar that weekend.

When contacted for comment, Balfour said her team submitted the paperwork for permits on Jan. 11, and submitted alcohol permits accordingly, though she said those were “rescinded by the city for no plausible reason.”

Balfour said the issues with permits for the bazaar point to a lack of access for minority communities to city property and resources — especially those who aren’t at “multimillion dollar companies” but volunteer organizations like her group. For large companies, she said, it’s easier to pivot and fix issues that pop up.

“We’re looking at additional time that it takes for minority organizations to be able to engage in something like this and the lack of resources,” Balfour said. “There’s nothing built in for equity of access to these city properties.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Cleopatra Balfour — seen here at an August 2022 news conference for the Urban Arts Festival, where she was one of the managers — organized and pitched the All-Star Bazaar, a showcase for Black-owned businesses held during NBA All-Star Weekend in Salt Lake City in February 2023.

Change of venue

The plan was to hold the All-Star Bazaar at Library Square, at 400 South and 200 East in Salt Lake City. It’s a plaza known for big summertime gatherings, including the Utah Arts Festival and Utah Pride Festival.

“What we [were] expecting is that people are going to be all over downtown, looking for things to do, and the marketing of [the bazaar] would drive people there,” Salvator said.

Anticipating big crowds, Salvator said, he washed his food truck and bought more than 600 pounds of meat. He also rented another food truck to two other vendors, Yvonne Nsabimana (of Ngoma Y’Africa) and Michaëlle Martial (a poet and chef), and several other African American immigrants and Black women, under the name “Taste the Culture.”

Martial said the All-Star Weekend was a “historic” opportunity to uplift Black culture in Utah — and noted it was the first time Salt Lake City had hosted the game in 30 years.

“We wanted to have a platform to give African diaspora and Afro-Caribbean women a platform to sell their food, because they’re very talented and most of the chefs are males,” Martial said.

Library Square, though, is nearly a mile and a half away from the All-Star Weekend’s nexus of Vivint Arena and the Salt Palace Convention Center — the locations, respectively, of the game itself and the NBA Crossover fan experience. During the weekend, there were long lines at events closer to the arena, including The Gateway to the west and City Creek Center to the east, but the visiting fans didn’t tend to migrate too far from the hub.

Up until the evening of Thursday, Feb. 16, before the jam-packed weekend, the plans were intact. An email sent to Salvator and other vendors (and shared with The Tribune) that Thursday morning provided a map, showing where vendors would be setting up their booths and trucks

Early Friday morning, the first day of the bazaar, vendors were told by email that the bazaar would be moving to another location: The Utah State Fairpark — a mile and a half west of the arena, and across Interstate 15.

Salvator said that he made $105 in total sales on Friday and that the turnout was so low, he didn’t go back Saturday or Sunday. Throughout the ordeal, he said, organizers didn’t seem to be taking any responsibility for the last-minute changes.

Nsabimana said they felt “betrayed” by the organizers on that Friday, because there wasn’t a clear indication of what was going on. If they had known earlier in the week, she said they wouldn’t have made such big purchases in preparation.

Eventually, Nsabimana said, they moved their food truck somewhere downtown, because nobody showed up to the bazaar. Martial noted they made less than $3,000 during the weekend, after spending nearly $6,000, “getting food, signing up for kitchen space.”

“Now, we’re left with our own debt,” Martial said.

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Roody Salvator, owner and cook of the Haitian food truck Makaya Caters.

Stumbles in the application process

What happened between the initial planning for the bazaar and the opening date is spelled out in exchanges between Balfour and government officials — which The Salt Lake Tribune obtained through public-record requests.

Thursday, January 26 • Balfour and Ryen Schlegel, special events permit manager for Salt Lake City, first made contact to discuss permits for the bazaar.

Sunday, February 5 • The Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Services (DABS) received liquor applications for three separate events for the bazaar.

Monday, February 6 • An assistant to Balfour for the event reached out to Schlegel at 1 p.m. to discuss the ADA plan, as part of the permitting process. The assistant stated “it currently populates an inactive Google form and not the official application.” (She wrote that Ashley Lichtle, the ADA coordinator for the mayor’s office, told her to contact Schlegel.) Later that night, Schlegel, in an email to Balfour and her assistant, stated the city had not received the site map info they expected a week earlier. He also noted that other government agencies — including DABS and the city’s Business Licensing Office — had not approved permits for the event. “We are very quickly approaching the deadline to receive approvals,” Schlegel wrote. “If we do not receive all approvals, WE CANNOT ISSUE A FINAL PERMIT.”

Wednesday, February 8 • Schlegel sends a second email to Balfour and her assistant, in which he writes: “We need proof of completion of all listed requirements by Monday 02/13/2023 before 05:00PM. Not receiving completed items by this time can jeopardize receiving a final permit.” Schlegel also provided a link to access the city’s online permitting portal.

Friday, February 10 • Schlegel lists out locations that can be included on the special events permit application (Library Plaza and 200 East; 100 South between 600 West and Dansie Drive, west of The Gateway) and those that cannot be included (200 W. South Temple, Regent Street, Gallivan Plaza) because they have been previously approved for other groups or are needed for security purposes.

Tuesday, February 14 • DABS approved three special-event liquor permits.

Wednesday, February 15 • One day before vendors are expected to get started, Balfour mass emails officials, stating that the All-Star Bazaar will be a “spontaneous event,” which “are exempted from special event permitting approval.” DABS pulled back approval for two of the special-event liquor permits, after being notified that local consent for the events was rescinded.

Thursday, February 16 • In several emails to Balfour’s group, Kim Chytraus, a senior Salt Lake City attorney, said the bazaar is “not a spontaneous event,” and structures and equipment cannot be set up without a special events permit — and violating that rule could result in a misdemeanor. At noon, Chytraus asked the group to remove concrete blocks from the library plaza. At 1:24 p.m., Chytraus sent another email to the group, saying the city was “very generous” in letting the group meet permit deadlines. “To be very clear, you do not have a permit and you may not set up any structures or equipment or barricades on City property.” DABS rescinded the liquor permit for the third event, after the director of the Utah Arts Alliance informed the agency that the alliance is not involved.

Paperwork problems

The last-minute location change — from Library Square to Utah State Fairpark — stemmed from issues involving permit paperwork, according to Andrew Wittenberg, director of communications for Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall.

“After missing significant deadlines leading up to the event date, city officials met with organizers multiple times over a 10-day period leading up to All-Star Weekend, in hopes of getting their event approved at their desired location,” Wittenberg wrote in an email to The Tribune. “Unfortunately, multiple pieces of necessary information were not provided.”

The list of missing information included: A certificate of insurance liability, an alcohol concession permit from DABS, waste management approval, a map of the location, traffic control and parking information, a tent permit from the fire department and public lands approval.

The city also sought information about a proposed, but never approved, Ferris wheel and ice skating rink.

In 2022, Wittenberg said, the city’s special events permitting team approved “nearly 200 applications for special events, and did not send a single denial to applicants who actively sought a permit.”

The city had no interactions with the individual business owners taking part in the bazaar, Wittenberg said. If it had, he added, the city has resources for them.

“Our economic development and business development team do have that outreach mechanism, a small business outreach team, that works with small businesses,” he said. The team, he added, “will go out into the communities and work with them on whether it’s a permitting process or if it’s something they need assistance with on building services.”

The city also has a building services liaison, who can connect with applicants to smooth over permitting issues.

“[It’s] as simple as making sure there’s a line of communication between the businesses and our special events permitting team to ensure that everything is on the up and up … so something like this doesn’t happen,” Wittenberg said.

Unauthorized ‘sponsors’

On the bazaar’s website, several government and arts organizations are listed as sponsors for the event — including Salt Lake City, the Utah Division of Arts and Museums, The Salt Lake City Arts Council, the Utah Arts Alliance, the alliance’s radio station KUAA and RISE Virtual Academy.

Wittenberg said the city and Arts Council were not sponsors, and had asked several times that the city’s seal and council’s logo be removed from the website.

Derek Dyer, the Utah Arts Alliance’s executive director, confirmed that it was not a sponsor. (Balfour has worked with the alliance last year, as a manager of the Urban Arts Festival, one of the alliance’s biggest events.)

Ellen Weist, spokesperson for the Utah Department of Cultural & Community Engagement, the umbrella agency for the Utah Division of Arts and Museums, said that organization was not a bazaar sponsor.

Michelle A. Love-Day — the founder, director and CEO of Rise — said in an email, “We did not sponsor the event, we just had students planning on presenting their Living Wax Museum Black history characters there. It was unfortunate of the change of venue, but our parents made the effort to get the students there.”

Making things right

The bazaar was a disappointment, Nsabimana said, adding that “it’s already hard to be a Black business in Utah.”

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, in 2022, that among Utah’s nearly 325,000 small businesses (which make up 99.3% of all Utah businesses), “racial minorities” owned 4.7% of businesses. Of those, 2,944 were Black businesses.

A 2020 report from Self, a fin-tech company, found that even though minority business owners nationally are the most represented in accommodation, food and retail startups, African Americans only represent 3% of minority business owners — though they make 12% of the nation’s population.

What vendors want now, Martial said, is compensation for their losses.

That’s beginning to happen, in some form. The Utah Black Chamber of Commerce has been hosting a series of retail experiences at the Zions Bank Eagle Emporium, at 102 S. Main, Salt Lake City. The last of these is set for this Friday and Saturday.

Dr. Sindi L. Shorter, president of the chamber, said that the first weekend was a success. “As for the Chamber, we saw a need in the community and activated an opportunity with the help of chamber member Zions Bank,” she said in an email.

Though the permitting process can be time-consuming, especially for minority businesses, Wittenberg said the city’s economic development board and Mendenhall’s office are also interested in working with the vendors and businesses that were affected — whether through future events or by giving them tools to understand “what they need to know that an event is authentic and that it has been approved.”

Nsabimana said the business owners who were affected are not people who give up easily. She noted that refugees like her — who have been through a war — are resilient.

Balfour said she hopes to help businesses make up for their losses at this year’s Juneteenth celebration.

Balfour said that what happened with the bazaar permits was not down to one branch or department. “It was so many different departments within the city that culminated to create a systemic problem that blocked access for [the] minority community during a time that it really should have been elevated.”

Editor’s note • 9:15 p.m. April 7, 2023: The name of a lower-level worker for the nonprofit Beloved Community has been removed, and the nonprofit’s connection to the event has been added. Read more here about how the The Salt Lake Tribune considers requests to alter or update past stories.