The Sherman Phoenix business owners are part of Milwaukee black history in the making

The Sherman Phoenix business owners are part of Milwaukee black history in the making

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This building off of West Fond du Lac Ave. was one of many set ablaze during the 2016 unrest in Milwaukee's Sherman Park neighborhood.

When the flames died down, the community was surrounded by destruction and pain. And this building, formerly a BMO Harris bank, was left with charred walls and broken glass.

Two years later, it has been renovated and has risen from the ashes as the Sherman Phoenix. After a community fundraising campaign lead by developers JoAnne Sabir and Juli Kaufmann, the building reopened to the public on November 30, 2018 as the revolutionary hub of culture, business and healing it is now.

[Read more: The rise of the Sherman Phoenix as a Milwaukee center of culture, business and healing]

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An in-depth look at the people behind the Sherman Phoenix in Milwaukee

sherman phoenix milwaukee owners

In February, we visited the Sherman Phoenix to document Milwaukee black history in the making. We met 13 of the business owners, took their photos and heard their stories.

Because as Angela Mallett of HoneyBee Sage puts it, “The Phoenix is so necessary and it is bigger than Sherman Park and the city of Milwaukee. It provides an example of what is possible for other cities and communities that are also experiencing socio-economic challenges across the nation.”

Now, nearly 30 tenants fill the bustling space—all of which are small businesses, mostly owned and operated by people of color.

The Sherman Phoenix has food vendors and retail shops, though it’s much more than a public market. It’s also a hub for creativity and wellness, including everything from gallery and art space to yoga studios, salons, a barber shop and counseling and community services.

Funky Fresh owner Trueman McGee (middle) with employees Amari Carter and Shawn McClain

Each is making history for the entrepreneurship and the hope that the Sherman Phoenix has brought to the community, which will have an impact on Milwaukee for generations to come.

Sauce and Spice owner Monica Oliver (middle) with employees

Below are photos of 11 of the business owners and their stories of what being inside the Sherman Phoenix means to them and the community.

“We initially imagined the Phoenix as a place the grow our juice business [The Juice Kitchen]. With overflowing interest it expanded beyond our wildest dreams to an epicenter of enterprise and culture.

“The building is full of the best energy provided by an outstanding community! I love that neighbors find the Phoenix as a safe place to convene from cross sectors of our Milwaukee community. I simply love the elders the come in and share how this space makes them feel a sense of community again. It gives so many a sense of possibility when it comes to what we can do for and with each other.”

HoneyBee Sage Wellness & Apothecary began as a personal desire to make a contribution of health and wellness offerings in the city I call home. In October 2017, after residing in the Nashville area for six years, I decided to return home to Milwaukee to open a wellness center and herbal apothecary. HoneyBee Sage has two owners, myself and Meshika Stewart. Though Meshika and I grew up together in church, she too had moved away to Arkansas to further her career in corporate accounting. She returned home to Milwaukee in the summer of 2018 and we reconnected through the herbal apprenticeship program at Alice’s Garden. After we had the opportunity to really catch up, just about a month or so before construction was completed for the Sherman Phoenix, Meshika and I discovered a great deal of synergy between us in our shared desire to contribute to healing within our community and hometown. It was then that we decided to join forces to bring the apothecary to life.

“Being a part of the Sherman Phoenix feels like love. It feels like community. It feels like family. It feels like a warm welcome home. I believe this is true not just for us and the other Phoenix tenants, but for all who enter to contribute to the Sherman Phoenix experience. The Phoenix is so necessary and it is bigger than Sherman Park and the city of Milwaukee. It provides an example of what is possible for other cities and communities that are also experiencing socio-economic challenges across the nation.

“A young man who had been homeless just prior to the Phoenix opening came into the apothecary and stood in our doorway and shed tears as he said, ‘This is for us!’ He expressed that he had just found employment and housing right around the time that we opened our doors and so he felt as if the tide was shifting in the right direction for us all as a community and the Phoenix was a beautiful representation of that.

“The Sherman Phoenix symbolizes the rising of a community that had been down for far too long, but change has finally come! We are simply honored to be a part.”

“My work as a first responder (Milwaukee Fire), chef (‘Master Chef Contestant,’ season seven), martial artist (black belt juijitsu) and yoga instructor is to help people—mind, body and soul. So, for many years I have been developing my skills, and have been blessed to be able to put my gifts/skills into practice and share with the rest of Milwaukee since the opening of Sherman Phoenix.

“I was approached by some of the minds behind the idea of Sherman Phoenix and asked if I would like to be a part of this awesome project. I did not hesitate, because I felt it was time to share my gifts with everyone who is in need of my services. So basically, I was recruited and I am grateful.

“Being born and raised in Milwaukee, I have seen many changes—which included developments and destruction of all sorts. The Sherman Phoenix has represented a new emergence of spirit. I very much feel, and want to be a part of the uplifting of Milwaukee. I believe the Sherman Phoenix will be an example and a hub for creativity, life and advancement.

All of my clients have expressed the high energy that is felt when walking through the doors of the Sherman Phoenix, and the interaction with all the businesses inside. The feeling of seeing and hearing the clients and customers talk about the new spirit of unity and collective economics in this community is my reward.”

“It was divine destiny. JoAnne and Maanaaa were already a part of me and my husbands lives before Sherman Phoenix. We became a big supporter of The Juice Kitchen (which is now called Shindig), we were helping to spread the word. Their love for the community and health and wellness was amazing to us. We supported their business at the Juice Kitchen and shortly JoAnne became a supporter of us and our salon through wigs—yes, JoAnne wore a wig for all of a day [laughs]. I remember swapping juice for hair—yes, funny I know—but the key thing is the trade of goods, which most of us in business don’t consider nor understand.

“The key points are trading of goods amongst businesses, support of each other and cross promoting. These three things are vital in business!

“So when I heard about Sherman Phoenix, I just knew I had to be a part of it. My husband and I were already in the process of opening up our second location which is a beauty supply store, and once I had the official conversation with JoAnne it was over from there. We currently have three locations now. It was crazy but it was all possible and worth doing.

“The Sherman Phoenix is our true love! There is no other place in Milwaukee that you can go to as a small, starter business and get the results that the Phoenix brings. The support, the cross promoting, the personal experiences of all of the owners and their staff, the business coaching, social media marketing and the raw beauty of something that experienced such turmoil and anger but is now healed resurrected with pure love. This building has so much warmth on the inside. It has opportunity for growth, it inspires, empowers and paves the way for so many inside and outside.”

Sherman Phoenix means hope, possibilities, love, energy, joy and peace in our city. The Sherman Phoenix is a place where there is room for everyone.

Confectionately Yours was birthed by my love and passion for feeding those I love, which is a trait inherited from my grandmother, the late Mildred Greer. My business was connected to the Sherman Phoenix when I was invited to an event where I met JoAnne Sabir. She and I immediately connected with such an organic chemistry. JoAnne asked me what I planned to do with all of my talent from a business perspective, and I really didn’t have a clear answer. She told me that she had an opportunity for me and if I would just trust her, she would make sure I opened the business I always wanted. Needless to say, I trusted her and the rest is ‘herstory!’

“My favorite part about doing business here is the pride that I see on the faces of the families of Sherman Park. They have new hope when they see a place created for them. It really makes me proud to hold one brick that helps to maintain this strong foundation.

“Sherman Phoenix means hope, possibilities, love, energy, joy and peace in our city. The Sherman Phoenix is a place where there is room for everyone.”

It’s more than just a shopping experience here.

Queen’s Closet is one of the programs that we have in Grateful Girls Inc. In 2014, we bought a building on 26th and Lisbon. It’s our community resource center. What we noticed in that building and in the surrounding area, is that they wanted toiletries and clothing. So we took a bedroom in that building on the second floor and made it this really cute boutique. We called it the Queen’s Closet, where women and girls in the community could come in there and get toiletries and clothes, from prom dresses to work gear and regular clothing, shoes, jewelry, accessories—anything that a queen would want was in that closet, beautiful and with a lot of dignity.

“We started to realize that we had an overflow of things that women’s organizations in Milwaukee were donating. I said, ‘You know, it would be great if someday we could have a job training program.’ So we decided to open a retail store.

That’s how we got connected with the Sherman Phoenix. I told the vision to Joanne. She was like, ‘I love the store idea. I love the fact that you want to do a training program. I love that this will help sustain women and girls in the community, to have them work in the store and make money.’

“Our mission is to encourage, to empower women and girls in the Milwaukee area.
We just recently hired a 16 year old. She was really excited about working here. Her first day of training, I was showing her things and eventually she was like, ‘Move Miss Cooper! I got this now.’

That’s exactly what we want. The fact that she became empowered in a short amount of time working here on Fon Du Lac in the heart of Milwaukee, a really tough neighborhood, is awesome.

“It’s more than just a shopping experience here.”

Lush was never plotted out to be a ‘business.’ It started as family fun creating with my siblings in the kitchen. Growing up in Detroit, our mom would buy us tin cans full of popcorn with multiple flavors. This was always a great way to bring us close on holidays or family functions. Creativity lead us to exploring in the kitchen, landing our first flavor—white chocolate. Friends and family loved it so much that they would request us to make it for them. By word of mouth we were asked if we can make it for a wedding event. Accepting that challenge, turned out to be a great success and gained us more attention. Then, branching off into farmers markets became lots of fun for us. 

“The Juice Kitchen was a regular business that we would visit. Becoming a loyal customer, we were able to establish a relationship with the owners, which lead to an invite of becoming involved with the Sherman Phoenix.

“Our favorite part of doing business here is most definitely the family affair atmosphere. We really utilize the advantage of cooperative economics and constantly learn from each other. For example, we’ve sold plenty of vegan popcorn and afterwards directed people to the vegan restaurant around the corner from us to extend the love. 

“It’s been amazing, we love the feel of Sherman Phoenix in our community. It’s a great feeling to see the diverse mix of people come together and interact. Great networking, businesses, products and services.  You couldn’t ask for more!

“Hands At Home started out of a transition. I have always worked in the service field and the opportunity to work with adults with disabilities came about. I was working with teen moms since 2006 as an entrepreneur with a business partner, coupled with working in corporate in many different capacities including probation, case management and counseling with both children and adults.

“I had decided I was going to leave corporate and heard about what was going on at the Phoenix and I wanted to be a part of it. I was unclear of what that would look like for me as I am not ‘selling’ anything, but I figured being in the building would open up whatever opportunities that were for me to be a part of.

“I grew up around the Sherman Phoenix, patronizing many businesses in the area and have friends and family that were also in the area, so it is a part of me.

“In these few months since the building opened it has been an amazing site to see. People come in and are in awe. It’s a gathering place. My favorite part of being here is I get to be a part of history and the togetherness that you feel when you enter the building.

“To see people come in and say, ‘I’m coming back. I’m going to tell people. This is great,’ brings me back every day.”

Anyone who comes to the Sherman Phoenix will feel like they are a part of the family of whom they are coming to visit.

Core Community Services was founded on the desire to eliminate the social determinants of health in our community. As a Milwaukee native, I believe we have everything we need to take care of each other. Our areas of focus are medical, behavioral health, family and education. We believe a community thrives on effective services to meet the needs and strong partnerships within the four areas. Through partnership we will have strong and resilient families, safety and well-being in the community. We are passionate about change, with Connecting- Outreach- Resources and Empowerment (CORE) Community Services.

“We got involved with the Sherman Phoenix when we crossed paths with compassionate change agents Maanan and Joanne Sabir. Our vision along with theirs aligned perfectly, in building a strong community from the inside out.

“As child I would often come to this neighborhood to play sports or hang out in the park. After the riots, I felt compelled to go into the community and be a part of the restoration as it had given me so much growing up in Milwaukee.

“During our time in the Sherman Phoenix, we’ve met so many extraordinary people from various walks of life. Anyone who comes to the Sherman Phoenix will feel like they are a part of the family of whom they are coming to visit.”