When Monica Semington was a child growing up in Mexico, her grandmother grew chamomile in the garden and used it to heal ailments such as stomachaches and colds. Little did Semington know that years later she would open her own business doing the same thing.
"I didn’t know that what happened then with my grandma would be a big part in my life," she said at the opening for her aromatherapy business, Monash Natural Blends, 1008 S. Cesar E. Chavez Drive. "Now I have my own garden and I dry my own herbs to infuse oils. It’s all related and it’s all coming together."
Semington is one of a group of local entrepreneurs participating in Pop-Up MKE, a program that provides training, mentorship and marketing to small-business owners looking for a risk-free way to test the market. Business owners also receive grants up to $2,500 and rent-free spaces. The program is an effort to revitalize the neighborhoods and encourage local shopping, with the hope that businesses will continue to grow and succeed on their own after the program ends.
The pop-ups are located at 1008 S. Cesar E. Chavez Dr., 339 W. North Ave. and 1617 W. North Ave. Two businesses occupy the retail space at each location for 30 days, then a new pair of businesses moves in. Over the next three months, a total of 17 businesses will open in the three locations.
Semington started making essential oil blends as a healing activity to help her through a difficult time in her life, but soon people were asking to buy her creations.
"I think I have a good sense of direction," she said. When Semington "gets stuck," she finds a way to move forward.
"It’s not about just money or being successful and having a big store," she said. "For me, it’s something that really makes me happy."
Pop-Up shop owner Imani Ray started her business, Natural E Beautiful, when she was still in high school. Through blogging and YouTube videos, she created a space of affirmation, reminding her followers of their natural beauty. In its new physical location, Natural E Beautiful offers a clothing line, community events and self-love coaching sessions.
"I want to make sure that everyone who is engaged in this space feels the same amount of self-love that I was able to develop through the clothing brand that I created," she said.
Emerald Mills, who attended the opening event for Natural E Beautiful, said Ray is an inspiration.
"She’s very consistent with encouraging words to get women to feel beautiful," Mills said.
Natural E Beautiful shares its location at 339 W. North Ave. with Beloved Masterpieces, which offers paint therapy lessons for healing. Its owner, Lauren Gilbert, said she started painting when she was 18 as a way to cope with her mother’s death. Now she focuses on painting positive images about love, self-expression and healing in the black community.
Gilbert said it’s rewarding to see change in people who take her classes.
"I have people who regularly attend sessions and I can tell their painting has gotten better and their stress has also reduced," she said.
Other businesses open now are Asili Naturals and Bella’s Treasures at 1615 W. North Ave., and In My City 365 at 1008 S. Cesar E. Chavez Dr.
Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), in partnership with Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation, the City of Milwaukee, three Historic Business Improvement Districts and MKE United coordinated the program.
"It’s really important to be activating commercial spaces within the community," said Beth Haskovec, LISC program officer. "We’re hoping that this program ensures that as the neighborhoods grow, opportunity for business grows as well."