Card kiosk finds market at mall

Expansion: Woman's success selling items with an African-American flair fuels dreams of a storefront location.

Small business

January 15, 2001|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Tanya Nixon dared to try.

The former day care teacher from Ellicott City was frustrated with the unavailability of products with an African-American flair. Most cards, books and gifts in card stores were devoid of black faces and topics to distinguish them as African-American.

So she started looking for items that appealed to her, and that she thought would appeal to others to sell at home parties and trade shows as part of a weekend, home-based business.

Two-and-a-half years later, Nixon's Greetings from Women Who Dare has a kiosk and a small niche of wall space at the storefront where a restaurant is scheduled to open in Arundel Mills mall. After a successful holiday season, Nixon is thinking her daring spirit has paid off.

She will expand next month with a kiosk in Laurel Mall for two months, and she is exploring an opportunity to open a kiosk in at least one other mall.

She has seen repeat customers and out-of-state visitors at her Arundel Mills locations. Business was so good, she asked her 19-year-old nephew, Jason L. Rayford, to come from London and help her out. He rounds out the eight employees she has hired since opening in November.

"Everybody's so glad there's a black business here," said Nixon, sitting near her kiosk in front of Arundel Mills' food court. "They're asking for things I want to carry, but I don't have the space."

The tidy kiosk decorated with leopard-print scarves and dried reeds displays books about Africa, black history, sexuality and teen angst along with greeting cards showing black faces, black heritage memorabilia, bookmarks, computer screen savers featuring African masks or African-American art and collectible items decorated in the colors and with the Greek letters of black fraternal organizations.

Nixon's wall space across from Jillian's holds more books, carved pencil sets, greeting cards, magnets and journals.

"It's amazing the things you don't see in mainstream America," she said. "When you see a black angel [on a Christmas card] rather than three white ones, it makes a difference."

This is not Nixon's first foray into the retail market. The Howard County native graduated from Hampton University in 1983 with a degree in merchandising, and after starting as a sales clerk in the housewares department of Hutzler's department store in Baltimore, she worked her way up to become a purchaser for the store's linen department.

Her first try at owning a business came in 1986, when she and her mother opened a beauty supply store in Baltimore. They shut down voluntarily a year and a half later, Nixon said, when she went home to raise her family.

She got the bug to begin operating Greetings from home in 1998 while she was working as a teacher at a Columbia day care center. She said her shop's name is meant to mock detractors whose lack of support delayed her start.

"I've always been told I couldn't do something," Nixon said, but she "always wanted to do this."

She may not have found support then, but she has plenty of it now. With a public presence in the mall and more merchandise to sell, sales grew more than a hundredfold, when compared with the home business, to about $40,000 over the past two months, she said.

One recent customer said she, too, has had trouble finding African-American items.

"I don't know where to look for any African-American stuff," said Judy Small of Laurel, who was shopping for cards.

Iris Murphy, another customer, said she was impressed with the selection.

"I like the stuff," she said. "It's nice."

Nixon is trying not to let her recent successes cause her to grow too quickly, but she can't help but think about her next goal.

"I want a storefront," she said.

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