Rockford Black chamber launches to support, encourage business growth
ROCKFORD — The city’s west side will soon have a bowling alley. Business owner and Rockford native Marissa Brown said it’s her goal to bring recreation and jobs to the community.
“We don’t have a lot of Black-owned businesses here, except for cosmetics related. No entertainment,” Brown said.
“I want the younger kids to be able to see that in their own community someone can come up and be successful. I wanted them to see that you can obtain these things with hard work.”
Brown’s new business is one of several that hope to benefit from the support of the new Rockford Black Chamber of Commerce.
Chamber president Shelia Brown announced the launch of the Black chamber July 10.
The chamber, which is intended to serve as a resource for young Black entrepreneurs, offers a business directory, networking opportunities, educational workshops and more, Brown said.
“We want to bring Black businesses together and to strengthen the African American business community in the greater Rockford area,” she said.
Level the playing field
Brown said she spearheaded the new chamber because there was a need.
“I saw that Black businesses — not all but some — were not getting the help and support that they needed,” she said. “That’s what prompted me to step into this arena and kind of level the playing field so that everyone would have an opportunity to get help and support.”
Brown, Marissa Brown’s mother, is an affiliate of the Illinois State Black Chamber of Commerce. She has been a day care owner of House of Grace Learning Center for more than 30 years and is pastor of Kingdom Authority Ministries in Rockford.
She said she’s always had the heart to help others and feels called by God to expand her reach.
“I heard the cry of the people and that’s why I stepped into this arena,” she said. “So I’m just trying to meet the needs of the people in our community. I want to support, encourage and help them develop and build their businesses.”
Build up Black businesses
State Rep. Maurice West, D-Rockford, said Black businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs need more support, and Rockford’s Black chamber will do just that.
“I’m excited about the Black chamber because their focus will be on building up the Black businesses in our community,” West said. “They need as much support as they can get, especially coming out of this pandemic.”
West said he’s particularly excited to see what the Black chamber can do to help spur economic development on the city’s south and west sides.
“Those two sides are the most underserved,” he said.
Janene Stephenson, owner of JS Event Design Studio and Social Cafe, agreed the new chamber is good for Rockford.
She is working on the launch of another business, Stephenson’s Pickup and Delivery Services, and is organizing her Women in Business Entrepreneurs expo for the fall.
“I’m very optimistic about this, and I’m glad it’s here,” Stephenson said. “I hope the chamber will be an asset to us, as well.”
Bowling, karaoke and more
Marissa Brown’s bowling alley, 2407 N. Central Ave., will include a restaurant with foods like salmon salad, tacos, crab and more.
There will also be a bar, music box, pool tables, slot machines and dart boards.
Brown plans to use the space for community events such as karaoke night and youth summer programs. People will be able to rent out Rissas Lanes for private events as well.
“I just wanted to give the community something to do and a space to do it,” Brown said.
Rissas Lanes will open later this summer. Finishing touches are still being put on.
When you walk in the bowling alley there is a mural of Brown’s friend, Brian, another entrepreneur who died a few months ago. It reads, “In loving memory, Brian’s Berries N Treats.”
“He and I always talked about this,” she said. “He pushed me to open it. … He helped start this vision so it’s in memory of him.”
The Rockford Black Chamber of Commerce website will launch soon. In the meantime, people can contact the chamber using [email protected] or 815-299-0134.