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Vacant properties finally getting filled with pop-up vendors

Posted at 7:01 PM, Sep 27, 2019

MILWAUKEE — An effort along Fond du Lac Avenue is changing the economic landscape of Milwaukee neighborhoods that need more attention and investment, and bringing minority-owned businesses into vacant properties.

"Somebody owns this building, but it has sat vacant, and that is a hit to their bottom line," said Robin Reese, the manager of the North Avenue/Fond du Lac Marketplace Business Improvement District (BID) 32. "By bringing in these new businesses, we're able to better support the property owner and revitalize this corridor."

It also gives the small business owners the chance to turn their passion into an actual storefront. It's made possible with the help of the public-private initiative known as Pop Up MKE. Entrepreneurs get a trial period to run a business in a vacant space. They pay rent and utilities, but get extra incentives, like help with marketing and advertising.

In this case, the building we're talking about is 1860 West Fond du Lac Avenue. It's across the street from Jefferson Park and Alice's Garden, and just a few businesses down from Tandem restaurant. The Fondy Farmer's Market is nearby, as well as some newly renovated apartment buildings. The area, just north of downtown - near the intersection of North and Fond du Lac Avenues - has become the recent focus of revitalization. At that intersection, the shuttered Milwaukee Mall or old Sears Department Store, is in the works to become a boutique hotel and conference center.

Marie Carter has brought her creation, The Classic Shoppe, to 1860 West Fond du Lac. It features her signature t-shirt and clothing styles.

"It's such an honor to be in this space with other black female business women," she said. "I'm humbled by the experience. It makes you feel like you're being seen and recognized. It's important."

Shawntell Parr, owner of Quiescent Moments, is selling her homemade candles and products.

"Getting more black women to own businesses like us, takes training, education and resources," she said. "Everyone needs to know the resources that are available, and believe that we can do it! Believe in yourself because it is very possible to become your own boss."

The third business in the new space, is Elevated Healing, owned by massage therapist Latasha Lynn Tharp. Her goal is to make "wellness" and "self care" more of a norm in the inner city.

"I am very thankful to work side by side with these other women, especially in this area," she said. "It feels really good to be part of this community."

Black female-owned business owners are the fastest-growing demographic of entrepreneurs in the U.S, according to

In 2012, African Americans made up only 22 percent of all business owners in Milwaukee County, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

But recently, there's been new growth with the establishment of businesses like the Bronzeville Collective and Sherman Phoenix.

"I am seeing more black entrepreneurs in this area, and in Milwaukee in general," Parr said.

"We need to own our neighborhoods," Carter said. "It's going to help our neighborhoods thrive and succeed."