By Karen Stokes
What a difference two years can make when time, persistence and love of community are in place. They can transform a space damaged from violence into a space for the community. That space is now Sherman Phoenix.
Sherman Phoenix is housed in the former BMO Harris Bank at 3536 W. Fond du Lac Ave. that was destroyed in August 2016 when the Sherman Park neighborhood erupted in violence after the fatal police shooting of Sylville Smith.
The over 20,000 sq. ft. property literally rose from the ashes. It’s opening day was Nov. 30 and Milwaukee showed up in numbers to celebrate and witnessed something special at the Sherman Phoenix.
The energy and excitement were prevalent. The festivities included music, introductions of the business owners and long lines of people anxiously waiting to indulge in gourmet popcorn, pizza, vegan food, funky fresh rolls and more.
“If you feel the energy that’s happening, this is reminiscent of the ‘soul’ of Milwaukee. I don’t care how the media or people try to portray us, this is Milwaukee,” said host Anthony Cobb.
Many high-profile Milwaukeeans were on hand for the celebration including Mayor Tom Barrett.
“There’s a couple of lessons here: If you want to see something done right have a woman do it. If you want to see something done spectacularly, have two women do it,” said Barrett about founders JoAnne Johnson-Sabir and Juli Kaufmann.
Juice Kitchen co-owner Johnson-Sabir and commercial real estate developer Kaufmann led the redevelopment and joined forces with many others to bring life to their vision.
“These two women are visionaries who understand that when there’s a challenge before you, it’s not a variable, what it is, is a speed ramp and they have taken off because what they have done with this building and you can see from the businesses here and you can see from the people here, all ages, all races you name it, this is our Milwaukee and I’m standing here as proud as I’ve ever been as mayor,” said Barrett.
“When Juli and JoAnne combined forces we got the Sherman Phoenix,” said Manaan Sabir, owner of Shindig Coffee and JoAnne’s husband.
Johnson-Sabir thanked friends, neighbors and supporters.
“This is a significant undertaking and you all supported us and ensured that we are here,” said Johnson-Sabir. “This is the Milwaukee we know and love, so thank you. We do not exist in one single story, we exist in love and possibility, so let this grow. Let this be a significant step forward not only for Sherman Park but for all of us.”
Johnson-Sabir and Kaufmann were persistent in recruiting businesses and now Sherman Phoenix houses 29 tenants.
Some of the tenants open for business on Friday includes Shindig Coffee, Purple Door Ice Cream, Next Level Vegan, Vibez, 2 King barbershop, Embody YOGA and Lush Popcorn among many others.
Marcy Taylor, originally from Detroit, has lived in Milwaukee for 10 years and is the owner of Lush Popcorn. She’s excited to be part of the Sherman Phoenix and talked about her inspiration for the business.
“I would make popcorn and bring it into work and my coworkers would say you need to sell this, so it was really just a hobby for me and I’m a junk food baby so it just made sense,” she said.
The project broke ground in May 2017 with a $4 million fundraising goal.
Funding came from a wide range of investors—the City of Milwaukee, the Wisconsin Economic Development Commission and about 50 community members who put in between $1,000 and $10,000 for ownership stakes as part of a crowdfunding effort. Three angel investors, including Milwaukee Bucks Senior Vice President Alex Lasry, also participated, according to the Milwaukee Journal.
In September, Green Bay Packers and Milwaukee native Lance Kendricks presented a $50,000 check to Sherman Phoenix as part of a community action initiative to support social justice causes.
During conversations on Friday, questions were raised whether the community will continue to support this space. From the overwhelming enthusiasm at the launch, it appears that the community will.
The businesses of Sherman Phoenix
Funky Fresh Spring Rolls
Next Level Vegan
Sauce & Spice
Purple Door Ice Cream
Health and Wellness
Sabir’s Karate and Fitness Center/Studio 1969
9th Cloud Therapy
Honeybee and Sage Wellness
Hands At Home
2 King Barber Shop
Prenasis Hair Gallery/Shampooed
Rhoyal Trinity Locs
Silver Talisman Local
The Lash Factory
Theresa Do My Nails
Vibez Creative Arts Space
Vicki Design Studio