Updated: March 04, 2021 10:25 PM
Created: March 04, 2021 10:11 PM
Joyce Sanders is living her dream — a new beginning.
"I know that quitting was not an option," she said. "You can't start over in a better place, you know what I mean?"
Sanders is marketing and selling her eclectic Urban 29 clothing line in a rent-free space called Community Commons.
"I think it's beautiful," Kemorah Hurd, of Minneapolis, said. "You don't typically get to see a lot of Black fully-owned stores in Mall of America or Rosedale Mall. I think it's a beautiful thing."
The 5,000 square-foot space was created last year when Mall of America sent invitations to small businesses impacted by the pandemic or the riots that followed the death of George Floyd.
"My heart goes out to George Floyd and his family," Sanders said quietly. "Not only was my business affected, I literally lived in the same neighborhood where the precinct burned. In my home and personal life, I was caught in the middle of it, and my business life."
During those last days of May 2020, Sanders was living a nightmare. During the riots, her Urban 29 store on Lake Street was among those damaged. She said more than $9,000 in inventory was stolen.
There was broken glass everywhere. Clothing racks and a few mannequins were about the only things left.
"At first, it was heartbreaking," Sanders recalled. "Basically, the store and all the adjoining stores were looted and burned."
The flames gutted her building. Nine months later, the location is still buried under a pile of rubble.
"I kind of felt for an instant that my dream was destroyed, because I worked very hard to get to that store and all that I put into it," Sanders said.
For months, she struggled to survive.
"I did some odd jobs, I delivered Grubhub, stuff like that, but I didn't have a location yet," Sanders said. "I was never going to give up. So I know I was sad and it was a hard time. I'm still dealing with the effects of that."
But in October, Sanders said she received some exciting news: a notification from Lake Street Council saying that Mall of America was accepting applications for Community Commons.
"I just took a chance," she said, smiling. "I didn't know what to expect and they called me back. So I was really happy, really excited."
The commons have been her workspace ever since.
While the unique clothing, the bright atmosphere, even the artwork in this shared space bring in customers, it's stories like Sanders's that bring out plenty of smiles.
"When I first just walked in here, I just got such a good energy from the whole place," said Destiny Niva, from St. Paul. "It's super inspiring. I had no clue that she had a store on Lake Street, and all of a sudden, she's in Mall of America, which people from all over the country come here."
Sanders isn't done yet. On April 1, she'll move her business into a stand-alone store space at the mall.
Her new chapter is inspiring others.
"I want to have my own nail salon someday and stuff, so I think this is beautiful," Hurd said. "She is inspirational. That shows me that I can have my own shop one day."
Sanders's move comes as Mall of America is planning a second phase for Community Commons.
Beginning April 1, the mall will welcome more minority-owned businesses to move in.
The plan includes free rent for three months, then the option to open an independent mall space or remain at the commons for a small percentage rent.
Those businesses currently at the commons can stay another six months before choosing either to transition to a solo space or leave the mall.
The idea of encouraging entrepreneurs who've suffered hardships in a difficult year has encouraged Sanders's customers.
"I think honestly, it's just truly inspiring that she was able to make it where she is right now," Niva said. "Having her own stores at other places, that's super cool."
Sanders said she hopes to someday reopen her business on Lake Street. But, for now, she said her new stand-alone location at the mall is more than enough.
"I'm super excited, and anxiously cannot wait," Sanders exclaimed. "Sometimes from tragedy come triumph, that's my take. Sometimes, things can be terrible and a dark cloud, and at the end, there's a rainbow."
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