MALL OF AMERICA MADE OUR DREAM COME TRUE!

Mall Of America Makes Dreams Come True For Small Retailers

Community Commons opens today, offering free rent and big opportunity to minority owned businesses hard hit in 2020.

The day before opening Fabulous Diva Boutique, Martena Jones paced from rack to rack, straightening dresses and pinching herself.

“This is my dream,” she said. “This is my chance.”

Jones’ shop is one of 17 independent retailers opening Thursday at Mall of America, part of Community Commons, a rent-free space dedicated to businesses struggling from the pandemic or displaced due to destruction that resulted from civil unrest over the summer. At least, that was the starting point for Community Commons, but as applications began to come in, mall organizers realized they had tapped into broader need and interest from minority owned businesses. Some come from Midtown Global Market on Lake Street in Minneapolis, which was at the center of the worst damage last spring. Others, from neighborhoods in St. Paul and Minneapolis, have watched their traffic plunge due to Covid-19. Still others, like Jones, seized on the unexpected opportunity to turn a lousy year into a launchpad for something bigger than they ever thought possible.

Jones established Fabulous Diva Boutique online in 2015 specializing in plus size women’s apparel. She spent her own savings on inventory. She organically built a social media following more than 6,000 strong on Facebook and Instagram combined. Being listed as a Black-owned business helped, she says.

She sold enough to keep the site going as a side hustle while working full-time at a bank. In 2018, she set up shop in an office building in Brooklyn Center, but traffic was, she says with a shrug, not exactly MOA on its slowest day. So she returned to e-commerce. Even as web traffic dropped when Covid-19 hit, Jones kept going—promoting flash sales for her followers, sharing photos of new sunglasses and jean jackets and interspersing product shots with inspirational quotes.

“I love God, I love church, I love fashion,” Jones says.

She learned about the Community Commons opportunity through the Northside Economic Opportunity Network, one of several organizations MOA’s Jill Renslow, executive vice president of business and marketing, contacted with the proposal. The mall had space. Renslow wanted to put it to good use.

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