For the first time in the city’s history, Madison has opened pop-up shops on State Street aimed at giving businesses owned by people of color prime retail space.
The vendors in the Culture Collective Pop-Up Shops include: Ardoposh; Better Footprints; DKs Boutique; El Legado; Intuition Productions; Madame Chu Delicacies; Marche-Isa Co; Nobbits USA; Oceans Laugh; OnlyOne Photography; and Restoration Soap & Bodycare. The Pop Up Shops are located at 440 and 444 State Street.
Saran Ouk, Office of Business Resource Manager for Madison, was new to her position when this program was being created. Ouk helped and collaborated with the Chambers to create this pop-up shop program for under-represented business owners in Madison.
“When I started my role, you know, my director was like hey, there’s been conversations about the pop-up,” said Ouk. “I just kind of took it upon myself to move forward with whatever was discussed. And then with the Black and Latino chambers already in the conversation, I thought we should bring in the Hmong Chamber as well. They’re statewide and they’re a CDFI (Community Development Financial Institution) with lending authority that could help the small businesses. So that’s kind of how it got started then with the three ethnic chambers and the city coming together to create this pop-up shop program.”
This program is a collaboration between the city of Madison, JD McCormick Properties, the Hmong Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce, the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Dane County, the Madison Black Chamber of Commerce and Madison’s Central Business Improvement District.
“This is probably the first time I would say Madison has worked with three ethnic chambers to start a program like this,” said Ouk. “That’s something that I’m very proud of. That we were able to work with three chambers of color because we wanted to make sure that we offered these opportunities to those who have been historically marginalized. And working with the chambers who do work you know in the community, and they work with these businesses. I think that was just perfect instead of the government trying to figure out who the vendors are. It was a great partnership with the chambers.”
The program hasn’t been an immediate success for all of the vendors. Sarah Denise Peeler, owner of Ocean’s Laugh, runs a company that sells flower bath kits and jars. Peeler said she’s grateful for the opportunity, but it’s been a bit of a struggle in the early going.
“What I will say is that it’s a beautiful experience because I’m willing to make it beautiful,” Peeler said. “I do understand as a minority, people may see something they actually like in the window, but once they see me, oh, they keep walking. So me showing up every day here in this space, this opportunity is for me. I think it is very key. It’s important to show up and to be present in these moments. To show up in these spaces (that) otherwise we wouldn’t even probably be able to afford to be in. We have to stay encouraged. You know, I sit here some days and sales are pretty low. But I’m not going to allow that to stop me from furthering my business and growing my brand.”
Allison Aguilar Bultman is the Support Coordinator for the vendors of the Culture Collectives. Bultman is there to support the vendors and cultivate community among them as they navigate this experience. She understands that State Street is a predominantly white space in Madison and is doing what she can to help the vendors during this time.
“And that truly is part of my role as the Support Coordinator, to make sure that they’re feeling listened to,” said Bultman. “And create an environment where they all feel like they can support each other because all of these vendors in these shops are our people of color as well. They’re going through this together. They’re the ones really sharing this experience and being there for one another. It is uncomfortable. Even at the grand opening, we had a great group of people and diverse people as well. That’s not always the case, if you were to walk down State Street Monday through Thursday. But again, it is such an opportunity for these vendors to look at it and say, ‘Where do I want my business to be located and how can I still share my culture and my passion for what I do in these spaces that are primarily white?’”
Josey Chu, owner of Madame Chu, runs a business that offers handcrafted products specializing in Southeast Asian delicacies. Chu is not new to State Street. As a student at UW-Madison, Chu spent a lot of time on State Street with friends. She recognizes the changes in the environment since the pandemic and understands how it has affected State Street and local businesses.
“So I do have to say that State Street from when I went to UW-Madison and now is a 90-degree difference, I wouldn’t say a 180,” said Chu. “Because State Street when I was going to UW Madison, it was a place where at 1 am in the morning, right after we had gone to the comedy clubs, and as students we would hang out at the Terrace and then walk down State Street looking for places to eat, browsing shops and buying gifts. It no longer has that charm because of what we went through. Both the pandemic and the riots and the whole shutting down State Street. So since then, it seems like it is really difficult for State Street to recover.”
Although Chu understands the reality of State Street, she values that opportunity presented from being able to participate in the Culture Collectives.
“I feel like the Culture Collectives is an opportunity, it is a place that really does showcase where the city would like to move forward, along State Street,” said Chu. “And that is to bring diversity of cultures and ethnicity back, and to show support. Most importantly, it is to show the city of Madison, (and) the state of Wisconsin, that retail, brick and mortar even though it is hard and is going through a bounce back. But in supporting small, local businesses in this retail program, it actually can help to bounce back the economy. Because this is an opportunity for small businesses to not experience supply chain issues that we constantly hear in the media. There’s all these products that are sitting on the door waiting to be delivered. If you get products through a local supplier, you really don’t have the supply chain issue. That is what I wanted to bring forth that the city, the chambers, the state of Wisconsin, in promoting local small businesses can actually bring the economy back. We can have a bounce back and not experience that supply chain issue.”
This program provided businesses owners the opportunity to put their products on State Street. It also gave opportunities for the Hmong Chamber of Commerce to collaborate with other chambers and the city of Madison. Maysee Herr, Executive Director of the Hmong Chamber of Commerce, talked about the significance of collaborating on this project and the impacts it will have on communities of color in Madison.
“To see what it’s like to be on State Street, not many of them have had that experience,” Herr said. “So this is a lesson for everyone involved. And also they can see if they can see themselves on state street down the line. if their products could sell there. Or if this is not what they want. So it’s a good experience for everyone all around. And also would say that in terms of the Hmong Chamber, it provides us an opportunity to meet any of the small businesses from various backgrounds.”
The Culture Collectives is providing something new and exciting to State Street. It is exciting for business owners to indulge in this opportunity and expand their clientele. This program is an opportunity to create a truly diverse State Street for all Madisonians to enjoy.
“I really thank all the chambers for being able to work together,” Chu said. “The Hmong Chamber, the Latino Chamber, the Black Chamber, and the city of Madison coming together and being able to actually work together in offering us this opportunity. The Culture Collectives is also an opportunity for me to meet other makers of products. In my space, I got to meet the owner of Nobbits USA. I got to meet the owner of Ocean’s Laugh. Also, next door are all the other beautiful boutique owners. We are able to talk about business, successes, failures and what we are looking forward to.”
As the holidays are approaching, swing by the Culture Collectives on State Street and support these small, local business owners. To learn more, visit: https://www.cityofmadison.com/news/culture-collectives-madison-pop-up-shops-are-now-open-on-state-street.