The Shops at Sharp End open with nineteen participating businesses
The past intersects with the present — and hopefully sparks a bevy of future business activity — at The Shops at Sharp End in the same area that anchored Columbia’s once-thriving Black business district more than eighty years ago.
The new minority-focused entrepreneur hub at the corner of Fifth and Walnut streets is designed to help new businesses gain footing while also serving as a reminder of the history of Sharp End. More than 150 people packed the hub on Wednesday afternoon, January 31, for the official grand opening and ribbon cutting.
“What you see here is the tip of the iceberg,” said Darin Preis, executive director of Central Missouri Community Action. “At its core, The Shops at Sharp End is a training program” for entrepreneurs. Preis said the massive turnout for the mid-week afternoon event showed the community’s depth of support for the project.
Stacy Button, president of Columbia Regional Economic Development Inc. (REDI), said she was “a little overcome with emotion” at the turnout and excitement for the event. CMCA, REDI, and The District are the collaborators for the retail business incubator that currently has nineteen participants. There is currently space for forty businesses.
Button, Preis, and Nickie Davis, executive director of The District, have met regularly to take The Shops at Sharp End from concept to reality. Button said the space will help “ensure a more resilient community by reducing barriers for minorities to achieve success.”
Davis echoed that statement.
“This will have a huge economic impact for downtown, for the city of Columbia,” Davis said.
Preis thanked the Boone County Commission for awarding CMCA $397,821 in American Resce Plan Act (ARPA) funds for The Shops at Sharp End.
“That really put us over the top,” he explained. “We couldn’t have done it without that support.”
- Participating businesses as of January 2024 are:
- Aaron Fox Writes
- Designs by Neisha
- Franky Karmen
- Generational Wisdom
- Mya’s Gourmet Popcorn
- Raw Roots Turmeric
- Star C Empowerment
- The 1 Percenters
- Vital Apparel
- Yggdrasils Cellar
- Sully Sauce
- Renz Blendz
- Power Me Labs LLC
- Grandmother Mary’s Cookies
- Motivated The Brand
- Fudge Brand
- Embellished by LDH
- Black Tea Bookshop
The Sharp End was the name of the city’s vibrant, historically Black business district that was displaced by urban renewal efforts in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Sharp End traces its beginning to 1910. The Sharp End website describes it this way
“It was a vibrant hub of Black culture and entrepreneurship, featuring numerous businesses, jazz clubs, and community gathering spaces. Sharp End served as a testament to the resilience and creativity of the Black community in the face of racial segregation. Though it was eventually displaced by urban renewal projects in the 1950s and 1960s, its legacy remains an integral part of Columbia’s history, symbolizing the enduring spirit of the local African American community.”
Barbra Horrell, a founding member of the Sharp End Heritage Committee that formed in 2015, leading to the establishment of the Columbia African American Heritage Trail — which begins at Sharp End.
“Some people forget where we came from when we recognize Sharp End,” Horrell told the crowd, referring to the “two cities” of Columbia’s racially segregated past.
“This is Sharp End. This is where we started,” she added. “This is the second city. Let’s not forget it … Not being mean Just being truthful.”
As one of the main guides for the city’s two-mile African American Heritage Trail, Horrell said Columbia Public Schools deserved a “shout out” for developing a curriculum that includes all eighth graders coming to Sharp End of “learning what Columbia was back in the day.”
The south wall of The Shops at Sharp End details the history of the space, ending with a cursive signature — Horrell’s handwriting — denoting the location as The Sharp End.
“The Sharp End has always been a part of The District, whether we knew it or not,” Davis added. “The history is incredibly important to this space. We plan to very intentionally keep it that way.”
Button told the crowd that the space will feature curated art along the stairwell, a reading area for youth, activities on the mezzanine, and pop-up events that will extend to the balcony.
“It’s not just about the shopping experience,” Button said. “It is an experience, and an opportunity to learn about the history.”
The city’s first high-rise parking garage sits on top of what used to be Sharp End, though the new retail incubator has now reclaimed a portion of that lower level. Horrell said that at one point in the past, some seventeen families lived above Sharp End.
Preis said CMCA’s role is to oversee management of the space, and part of that process is using the Missouri Women’s Business Center — a CMCA program — to provide business coaches as well as mandatory workshops covering accounting, sales tax, marketing, merchandising, customer service, and other aspects of running a retail business. The initiative is designed to help move successful businesses to online or brick-and-mortar locations, making room for additional start-ups.
Columbia Mayor Barbara Buffaloe said last week’s opening as “a significant milestone in our community’s journey toward economic empowerment and inclusivity” and “a testament to what defines us as a community.”
“The unique opportunity to combine this history of our past with our eyes on the future is just perfect for what we’re doing here in Columbia,” she said.
The business hub’s retail manager, Tanisha Simpson, was also introduced at the grand opening.
“It’s been an amazing journey so far,” she told the crowd, adding: “I’d just like to say, ‘Buy something.’”
The Shops at Sharp End is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.
From the hub’s website:
Vision – Highlight innovative and creative retail businesses in a collaborative gathering space where passionate entrepreneurs come together, connect with the public, share their ideas, and grow their businesses.
Mission – Reduce barriers to entry for low to moderate income individuals and minoritized populations who desire to start new retail enterprises by helping them become financially viable, freestanding, successful business owners through participation in the retail incubator program.