Kaufmann: ‘Sherman Phoenix will rise again’

Six-figure private donation provides huge relief for entrepreneurial hub

JoAnne Johnson-Sabir and Juli Kaufmann thank their supporters at the Sherman Phoenix grand opening in 2018.
JoAnne Johnson-Sabir and Juli Kaufmann thank their supporters at the Sherman Phoenix grand opening in 2018.

The future seemed bleak for Milwaukee’s central city entrepreneurial hub Sherman Phoenix after state orders preventing the spread of COVID-19 forced its 27 tenants to close or limit operations until further notice.

But on Tuesday morning, the business received a major donation that will help it stay afloat for at least the next two months, Sherman Phoenix co-developer Juli Kaufmann said in an interview Tuesday with BizTimes Milwaukee.

She said the private donor, whose name Kaufmann did not disclose, had called minutes earlier to give “a six-figure commitment” to the Sherman Phoenix project. The gift covers about two months of expenses at the hub’s 3536 W. Fond du Lac Ave. location, which opened in December 2018.

Spearheaded by Kaufmann and The Juice Kitchen co-owner JoAnne Johnson-Sabir, the $3.5 million Sherman Phoenix project gave new life to a BMO Harris Bank branch building that was burned during civil unrest in the Sherman Park neighborhood in 2016.

Tuesday’s donation came in response to a call for support that was sent to Sherman Phoenix supporters on Monday, Kaufmann said.

“What we are feeling and recognizing is that this hope and belief that we’re in it together, which existed for the Sherman Phoenix before this all happened, is now the lifeblood of an ecosystem that will sustain us through this,” she said.

But the one gift is not the be-all-and-end-all for the Sherman Phoenix and its cohort of black owned businesses.

“It’s a struggle under good times– many (tenants) are startups and in their first year and so it’s exceptionally challenging for any new business,” Kaufmann said. “We are effectively like a startup in how we function as a piece of real estate so we don’t have a very large built up reserve to weather this.”

Some tenants such as food vendors like Funk Fresh Spring Rolls, Sauce & Spice Pizza and Buffalo Boss remain in operation, using the kitchen at Sherman Phoenix to run carryout and delivery services. But others, like the health and wellness concepts or beauty salons, have no way of making money during this period of time.

That’s where Sherman Phoenix will rely on the donors, investors and the community to pitch in support– whether it’s cash or other resources to develop pivot strategies for the hub.

Sherman Phoenix has launched a $100,000 fundraising campaign via its website, aimed at providing rent relief for tenants, supporting development of tenants’ ecommmerce sites, and building out an online platform as a resource for the surrounding community.

“This sense of how we build these projects does matter and they matter most at times like this, in that we’re all viewing this as we’re in it together and it’s a hard silver lining but at least it’s silver lining that we have each other to lean on,” Kaufmann said.

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Maredithe Meyer
Maredithe Meyer started as an intern reporter at BizTimes in summer 2015. She currently covers entertainment, sports, tourism and restaurants. In May 2017, she graduated with a journalism degree from Marquette University where she worked as an in-depth projects reporter for the Marquette Wire and Marquette Tribune.

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