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Shop the Sharp End

The north wall at The Shops at Sharp End features the story of the Sharp End, Columbia's historically Black business district that was destroyed and displaced by urban renewal in the 1950s and early 1960s.

The Shops at Sharp End nurture and propel entrepreneurs.

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. Located at the corner of Fifth and Walnut streets, the minority-focused entrepreneur hub officially opened on January 31, 2024. 

The Shops at Sharp End is the joint brainchild of the Downtown Community Improvement District (The District), Central Missouri Community Action (CMCA), and Columbia Regional Economic Development Inc. (REDI). 

Darin Preiss, executive director of CMCA, referred to the new hub as “the tip of the iceberg” of what The Shops at Sharp End aims to become: a sustainable training program for entrepreneurs who can launch successful businesses that will need their own space at some point and time. 

Here is the nutshell history of the historic area, from The Shops at Sharp End website: 

“From the early 1900s to the 1960s, the Sharp End business district was a city within a city for Columbia’s black community. Stretching from Fifth to Sixth streets on both sides of Walnut Street. Sharp End was a robust business center with black-owned restaurants, meeting halls, barbershops, bars and more … 

… The significance of The Shops at Sharp End extends far beyond mere bricks and mortar. It symbolizes a collective commitment to honoring the past, enriching the present, and shaping the future of Columbia, Missouri. By embracing historical preservation, fostering economic revitalization, nurturing community engagement, and promoting sustainability, this development exemplifies the intersection of heritage and progress, making it an indispensable asset to the Sharp End district and beyond.”

Vital Designs at The Shops At Sharp End
Vital Designs at The Shops At Sharp End

Vital Apparel 

Opportunity can come when you least expect. Anthony Johnson designed clothing for himself in ways that would appeal to him — “I like what I like,” he says — and he’d receive lots of compliments with questions about where he bought his clothes. He also designed logos with standout color schemes for sports teams, and often got requests from others to provide that eye-catching service and products for them. 

Designing has always been easy for Johnson. He creates designs that appeal to him. And, as he has learned, they appeal to many others.  He is involved with the sports teams and leagues which also serve as a showcase for his designs. 

Eventually, Johnson had enough requests for designs that he was convinced the time was right to expand his design and selling reach to others.  

He chose the name “Vital” because that is how he views his designs and wants them to be considered by people who wear them.   

“The name is powerful,” he explained. “It’s vital to success — so words on a shirt.” 

Social media ads and word of mouth are the main ways he has promoted his apparel.  Working with REDI, and as a member of the REDI Hub, Johnson met with Ray Hall, the Hub’s minority business coordinator, to explore the pros and cons of selling his items at the Shops at the Sharp End, allowing a wider range of people to see his creations. Now he appreciates the platform provided along with the opportunity to learn about licensing and insurance, as well as product placement and the finer points of arranging products to make them look appealing. 

An opportunity came to buy a local manufacturing company, and he now has more than twenty employees. He has the more complex designs created in China. 

A new opportunity arose when he was convinced to participate in a fashion show at Orr Street Studios. Although reluctant at first, Johnson found that this was a fun way to show the world his creations. After having fun participating and being successful, he has plans to do more fashion shows in the future.  

Johnson likes to work with kids and sports leagues through his nonprofit, Columbia Supreme.. He also remains focused on entrepreneur endeavors, summer programs, career awareness, and finance awareness. Future plans include an official business launch, growing the brand, and connecting with fashion shows.

Rens Blendz at The Shops At Sharp End
Rens Blendz at The Shops At Sharp End

Renz Blendz 

A chance to chase your dreams. You never know when it will arrive. Successful entrepreneurs usually recognize that moment, but sometimes it must be spelled out.   

Lorenzo “Renz” Shephard has cut hair for thirty-two years and he opened a shop in downtown Columbia on 8th Street. He had heard that the Shops at Sharp End was opening at some point and became enthusiastic about the concept of small businesses having the opportunity to place products in the store to reach community members who were not familiar with him or his products. Renz said the opportunity was “a blessing that came about. A really good idea.” 

Anticipating that the shop would open, Renz gathered items together to place there. One product was Renz Blendz Seasonings, the result of a creation that came about when one of his customers was talking to him about selling spices. After chatting, he jumped at the idea. Renz offers friends, family, and acquaintances samples — and they typically like it so much they come back to buy.   Currently he sells the seasonings to restaurants, caterers, and distributors along with individuals in several states.  

“You never know what people will cater to. Everything is off a trend,” he said. In addition to the spices, he manufactures several varieties of pickles which he has available currently just in his barber shop.

Years ago, he was at a training session in Atlanta when he was asked about the products he used on a client’s hair. He described the products and the instructor asked where his clients could get them for their home use. Renz responded and named a few places that carried those products.   

Renz said he was shocked when the instructor pointed out that was not the best approach, telling Renz he was missing out on a terrific opportunity. He should have those items at his shop so he can sell them. Why send clients elsewhere? A bit embarrassed, Renz said he realized, “One has to keep their eyes open, and opportunities will present themselves.”  

As a result, he will start selling men’s products in his shop. Unrelated to hair care but with an eye on future opportunities, Renz is hoping for another hot Missouri summer. He will sell snow cones.  

Renz said many people have good ideas but do not know how to turn them into reality. Though other would-be entrepreneurs may not have confidence that their ideas will bear fruit, he sends them to REDI knowing the Hub can connect them with a coach and assist in developing the idea. He says that’s how REDI has been a tremendous help to him. 

Tanisha Simpson at The Shops At Sharp End
Tanisha Simpson at The Shops At Sharp End

Tanisha Simpson 

The history of the Sharp End is what convinced Tanisha Simpson to become the manager of the Shops at Sharp End. That will allow them more “exposure to the community and clientele they would not otherwise have.”  

Simpson points out that messages and details on the walls inside The Shops are reminders of the long history of the minority businesses that were part of the area called the Sharp End, which thrived from the early 1900s to the early 1960s, before “urban renewal” ended that reign.  She is reminded of that history and sees a parallel between Columbia and where she grew up in St. Louis. She knows the pain people felt with the uprooting of their lives and businesses due to urban renewal. It was something that her family experienced in St. Louis. 

With the experience that comes with over twenty years in retail sales and store management, Simpson helps the participating entrepreneurs display their products and shows them which ways are best for marketing in a retail environment. She believes strongly in what the store represents for the community and knows the opportunities it presents for budding entrepreneurs. She had other opportunities where she could have put her skills to work, but The Shops was an opportunity she felt she could not pass on helping to develop. 

She joined the Shops at Sharp End in November 2023 before the soft opening in December.  Taking advantage of her experience and skills, she worked to implement the plans developed in anticipation of the store opening.  

Simpson eagerly greets customers who come into The Shops and, when necessary, devotes time to show them around. Others just want to browse, and she lets them know she is available for questions. She makes sure they know the history and explains how that and the vendors that display at the Shops at the Sharp End is what makes this store unique.   

In addition to the monthly workshops and events for participants and prospective businesses, Simpson uses the skills she has accumulated to teach vendors how to place and promote their products. She provides coaching, merchandising, product placement, pricing promotions, and customer service that can take new entrepreneurs years to learn. The strategy includes open houses and story time readings. 

A recent workshop centered on photography to help participants learn how to photograph their products for the best marketing. Simpson also makes sure that the vendors appear in the store and schedules new product drop offs while running the store and training her staff.  

Along with the monthly events, promotion takes place over Instagram and via ads by the Missouri Women’s Business Center, flyers, and a newsletter. Simpson works to keep the history of what the store represents alive to the community. She said she enjoys educating customers and vendors who are not familiar with the history of The Sharp End. Ultimately, the goal is to help entrepreneurs become successful, “with the hope, allowing them to grow their business and move on to their own store.” 

Vendors are expected to spend a few hours a week at the store to gain experience and grow their businesses.  

“I don’t like empty shelves, I don’t like products to linger,” Simpson emphasizes as she makes sure the store displays attractively and skillfully placed products so that they appear enticing to customers.  

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