Center for minority business opens at Eastland Mall
A longtime Central Illinois business professional opened a nonprofit aimed at helping up-and-coming minority business owners on Wednesday.
Denise Moore is the CEO of the Minority Business Development Center in Peoria — and after Wednesday afternoon's launch, she's also the CEO of the same office at Eastland Mall in Bloomington.
"Coming back to Bloomington-Normal for me is like a homecoming," Moore told WGLT in an interview. "I've never really left; I still have a foothold there, still."
To run both MBDCs, Moore is harnessing years of business acumen gathered at State Farm and WestPoint Financial Group (as well as the two businesses she and her husband started) and organizing experience from founding the Black Business Alliance in McLean County in the mid-1990s.
She said her own experiences trying to start a small business — a side hustle before the term was coined — revealed a void in what kind of help was available to aspiring entrepreneurs.
"By the time I got off work at State Farm, the places that I could go to for help were already closed. At the time, there was no small business development center in Bloomington, so I would drive over to Peoria to the (one) here at Bradley University," Moore recalled.
"It was difficult to find information. It was difficult to find places to research where to get fixtures or product for my store. That is one of the reasons I decided to start something that could give people hope — to know there is information out there, this is how you find it."
The office in Bloomington will open a little more than a year after the MBDC in Peoria opened in April 2021. That first MBDC launch was five years in the making, Moore said, and garnered more than half a million dollars in private donations.
"We had more than 700 people come to our location here — and we're on the south side of Peoria," Moore said. "They find us. They call us."
Both the MBDC in Peoria and the one in Bloomington are offshoots of the Black Business Alliance, Peoria Chapter, a registered nonprofit. Most of the classes offered are either low-cost or completely free and both centers offer free one-on-one consulting. Partners of the MBDC include SCORE, the Illinois Small Business Development Center and Illinois Central College, among others.
Moore said she had been leading business and grant funding-oriented classes at the Illinois State University Alumni Center in Normal for a few months last year that drew dozens of attendees twice a month on Saturdays.
"They kept asking me, 'When are you going to open an office in Bloomington?' We today have people driving from Bloomington to Peoria to receive training and services," Moore said. "So I thought, there's a desire here that's not being filled. I decided, 'Why not?'"
Moore said 1615 E. Empire Street in Bloomington location within Eastland Mall was chosen because it's "easy to find, everybody knows where it is and it has good parking."
The Bloomington MBDC will initially operate according to winter hours from 3-7 p.m. on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. Moore said she expects that availability to expand by the spring.
And while the MBDC exists to help people of color, women, and veterans especially, Moore said the services are available to anyone who seeks them.
"I always tell folks that our motto is, 'We help keep your business in the black, because the only color we see as green,'" she said. "It doesn't matter if you're white, or Asian or Hispanic or African American. We want to help everybody."