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Saturday, October 16, 2021

Vendor events help bring life back to malls

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Circle Centre Mall has kept the lights on, but there’s much less to illuminate now than there used to be, especially on the south end opposite the food court.

That’s where Lee Johnson has set up shop, next to the now-closed Express and above the now-closed Forever 21. Johnson has hosted three multi-day vendor events, featuring small business owners selling everything from perfume and cologne to art and T-shirts.

“I’ve seen events like this go crazy,” he said on a recent Friday morning while he set up for another event.

Across town at Washington Square Mall on the east side, Tevin Studdard has dreams of doing the same for a mall that struggles to drive traffic outside of the Target that’s attached to it.

There were 133 vendors stretched through the mall halls at the first large event in early September. There was heavy foot traffic browsing the lineup and popping into other mall stores, and that was on a weekday afternoon.

“If you can get hundreds of people to show up at Washington Square on a Wednesday afternoon, there’s no telling what you can do on a Saturday,” Studdard said.

That’s why Studdard feels the expectations to help revive the mall. It’s not that he feels pressure, though.

“I feel opportunity,” he said.

Lee Johnson hosts Entrepreneur Extravaganza, a vendor event at Circle Centre Mall, twice a month.
• Upcoming events: Sept. 24-26, Oct. 8-10 and more into April 2022
• Where: Circle Centre Mall, 49 W. Maryland St., on the third floor
• Want to be a vendor? Contact Johnson at 317-389-6304

The next event at Washington Square Mall is Oct. 2. There will also be a talent show with a $1,000 prize Oct. 16. The next vendor event at Circle Centre Mall is Sept. 24-26. There’s room for 35 vendors. Contact Johnson at 317-389-6304 to learn how to get involved.

Johnson, who has a line of air fresheners, said he started his event because he wants to break “generational curses.” Black culture has influenced much of American life, but Black people still don’t get enough opportunities.

Johnson was laid off from a job in insurance in 2012 and remembers wanting to break down in tears because he wasn’t sure how he would be able to take care of his family.

“I just told myself I’m never gonna let this happen again,” he said. “I’m never gonna have this feeling again.”

Tevin Studdard started Tevins Vision, a store at Washington Square Mall that hosts vendor events and other opportunities for small business owners.
• Upcoming events: Vendor event Oct. 2, talent show Oct. 16
• Where: Washington Square Mall, 10202 E. Washington St.
• Want to be a vendor? Contact Studdard at tevinstuddardshow@gmail.com.

Studdard, who went viral in 2020 for his Long’s Bakery music video, spends the majority of weekdays between events filming a cooking show with Black chefs and Black-owned restaurants.

“The goal is to highlight Black-owned businesses and provide them a platform where they can sustain financially,” he said. “It’s like putting them in positions to win financially.”

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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