Benefactors: African American small businesses and the Downtown economy


Pittsburgh’s Juneteenth celebration, which ended on June 19 with a first-ever, 25-minute fireworks display, also put a bang in Pittsburgh’s economy, the New Pittsburgh Courier has learned.



VisitPITTSBURGH estimated that the four-day Juneteenth celebration, held June 16-19 at Point State Park and Market Square, Downtown, generated $3.49 million in direct resident and visitor spend for Allegheny County. B. Marshall, the force behind Pittsburgh’s Juneteenth, said an additional $700,000 was made from the small business vendors that lined the nearby streets during Juneteenth. The vast majority of the vendors were African Americans.

VisitPITTSBURGH estimated 48,800 people attended the four-day event, 21 percent of whom were out-of-towners.

Where did the visitors come from? Youngstown topped the list, followed by Wheeling/Steubenville, Philadelphia, Washing ton, D.C., Dayton, Ohio, Detroit, Houston, the Orlando area, Milwaukee and Boston.

The visitors spent an average of 2.3 days in Allegheny County during the festival, and spent an average of 1.5 hours at the event. Data from VisitPITTSBURGH also estimated that from the tourism, $1.66 million was spent on hotel stays, $669,000 in food sales, $406,000 in shopping, $290,000 in travel costs and $174,000 in exploration.

B. Marshall, with Stop The Violence Pittsburgh, said that many visitors told him “they didn’t know Pittsburgh had anything like this,” as Pittsburgh isn’t exactly known as the mecca for African Americans. Pittsburgh’s Juneteenth, in B. Marshall’s opinion, is the “biggest Juneteenth across the country. In other states, some people may do Juneteenth one or two days, but they don’t have the level of entertainment that we have, the parade, and all this is actually free, where some people charge for some of the Juneteenth celebrations.”

B. Marshall said what’s unique to Juneteenth in Pittsburgh is that “everyone migrates to our Juneteenth Downtown Pittsburgh,” whereas in cities such as Philadelphia, B. Marshall said there are multiple Juneteenth celebrations across the city that aren’t connected to each other.

The small business vendors are a very important part of the Juneteenth festivities. Before one can get to the Point State Park stage, one will encounter up to 50 different businesses selling everything from food and beverages to books, clothes and accessories.

“We fight for our vendors,” B. Marshall told the Courier. “We’re starting to get a lot of vendors from out of town, but we make it a priority to make sure we have our local vendors, give them an opportunity to make a profit. It’s very important for that money to circulate back in our communities.”

B. Marshall said the small businesses being at Juneteenth give them an opportunity “to vend Downtown. They get a different audience, a broader audience.”

This year’s Juneteenth occurred on the same weekend that the biggest music star in the nation, Taylor Swift, held her “Eras” tour, at nearby Acrisure Stadium. There were no less than 140,000 “Swifties” throughout the North Shore and Downtown on June 16 and 17,  and for B. Marshall and Juneteenth, “that was one of the best things that ever happened. It inflated some of our numbers, and the Taylor Swift concert didn’t start until 7, 8 (p.m.), and throughout the day they were Downtown shopping with our local vendors.”

Pittsburgh’s Juneteenth couldn’t be possible, or at least on such a large scale, without corporate sponsors. Highmark Wholecare was the official health care provider of Juneteenth. Dollar Bank was the sponsor of the Minority Small Business Vendor Plaza. UPMC served as the sponsor for the Grand Jubilee Parade, and Citizens Bank was the political unit sponsor of the Grand Jubilee Parade. CNX also was a sizable sponsor. And while not corporate, the City of Pittsburgh, through a fund to ensure the arts are alive and well in Pittsburgh, contributed $125,000 to Juneteenth.


Morton Stanfield, Senior Vice President, Community Development at Dollar Bank, told the Courier that as the oldest bank in Pittsburgh, “we as a bank like to celebrate our history and the history of our customers. Juneteenth is a perfect day to celebrate freedom and a way to bring the entire community together.”

He said Dollar Bank is proud to sponsor the Minority Small Business Vendor Plaza. “Part of our community development strategy is, we’re focused on supporting small businesses with a focus on historically disadvantaged businesses,” Stanfield said.

In 2022, B. Marshall said the economic impact that his three events—Juneteenth, Black Music Festival and Soul Food Festival, all Downtown—generated $4.4. million in impact. He said earlier this year he wanted the three events to total a $10 million impact for 2023. The roughly $4.2 million in impact so far, B. Marshall said, is a great start, but he’s waiting for the numbers to come in on the Black Music Festival and Soul Food Festival. The $10 million goal might be reached.

“Pittsburgh, as a tourism destination, is very much driven by events,” said Jerad Bachar, President and CEO of VisitPITTSBURGH, in an interview with the Courier, Oct. 3. “…Juneteenth, beyond just the economic impact, is important for our society. Having Juneteenth here and having a growing and robust Juneteenth celebration is important for all of our communities, to really celebrate all that Pittsburgh has from a culture standpoint, from a heritage standpoint. It’s very important for our events calendar to have and it’s great to see that it’s economically successful.”

Bachar said because Juneteenth is in Downtown, out-of-towners have no problem learning about the nearby hotels or restaurants. Most of the questions VisitPITTSBURGH fields concern the musical acts who are performing on a particular day. But what the organization has noticed is the uptick in page hits their website gets on its “Black-owned Businesses” page. Bachar said even without Juneteenth, the page is one of the VisitPITTSBURGH website’s most popular web pages.


Dr. Margaret Larkins-Pettigrew, Senior Vice President, Chief Diversity Officer, Highmark-Allegheny Health Network, is ecstatic about Pittsburgh’s Juneteenth celebration. In an interview with the Courier, Oct. 2, she said B. Marshall’s “vision and his motivation to make sure that we (Pittsburgh) are a model for the rest of the country as it relates to celebrating and lifting up all of our ancestors through Juneteenth is phenomenal.”

Highmark Wholecare was the official health care provider of Juneteenth, which included not just funding, but its representatives conducted various testing and immunizations for individuals on-site at Juneteenth. As for Dr. Pettigrew, her favorite part of Juneteenth seemed to be the Grand Jubilee Parade, held on Saturday morning, June 17.

“I walked in the parade in the morning, and…if you haven’t done it, you will see people of every race, ethnicity, gender, children…sitting out there waiting for the Juneteenth parade to pass by,” she told the Courier. “As an African American female…I have nothing but a beaming smile across my face that says, ‘we’re in the right place, we’re in the right space,’ and we must continue to advocate for this to continue to happen, year after year after year.”


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