MEMShop expanding to Frayser and Whitehaven in 2020

Frayser and Whitehaven will be the newest neighborhoods to shop local with MEMShop

Communities Unlimited’s MEMShop program will help Memphis-area entrepreneurs launch six new stores in early 2020. The business owners will receive assistance locating a vacant space, help negotiating the lease, and one-on-one consulting and mentoring for 12 months.

MEMShop is currently reviewing applications from interested entrepreneurs and plans to have the businesses and sites selected by early January. 

MEMShop's expansion is part of a collaboration between Communities Unlimited, United Housing Inc., River City Capital, and Hope Credit Union leveraging a $3 million grant from JPMorgan Chase. River City will use their funds for small business, United Housing will launch a Whitehaven homebuyer education course, and Hope will offer more credit-building loans.

“Communities Unlimited’s role in the collaborative is to launch three MEMShops [each] in the Frayser and Whitehaven neighborhoods, provide management consulting services to small businesses in both neighborhoods, and make small business loans,” said Cynthia Norwood, Communities Unlimited's director of entrepreneurship. 

The Greater Whitehaven Economic Redevelopment Corporation is a key partner in Whitehaven. 

“Opportunities like this help Whitehaven reach its full potential through the revitalizing and redevelopment of business and the promotion of economic development in the area," said GWERC's executive director, Trey McKnight.

Steve Lockwood, executive director of Frayser CDC, echoed similar hopes for his community. 

"The population of Frayser is rising. There is demand for new goods and services. This program will help us bring new and sustain existing businesses in Frayser," he said. “Frayser CDC is pleased that we are adding another facet to the rebuilding of Frayser."

Norword said combined funding from the JPMorgan Chase grant and the Kresge Foundation will provide the six new MEMShop owners with a business stipend of up to $10,000 and fund four additional MEMShops over the next two years.

“MEMShop gave us the courage to move forward and test our idea," said MEMShop alum Pamela Hill, founder of Makeda's Cookies. “They held my hand tight and helped us at every turn including help with our taxes and bookkeeping."

"The key is having that entrepreneurial spirit and getting out of your comfort zone," she added. "My comfort zone will be in my grave ... I have to stay [uncomfortable] to continue to grow."

Customers browse tables and shops at a South Memphis MEMShop event in 2014. (MEMShop)


Communities Unlimited serves seven states, including the Mid-South's tri-states. Their research shows their seven-state region is home to 60% of persistently poor counties in the U.S. and significant portions of the nation's Black, Hispanic, and Native people and communities.

Communities Unlimited is a nonprofit community development financial institution. It supports small businesses through education and direct services and provides non-traditional loans to underserved communities and business owners deemed too high-risk by traditional lenders. The end goal is to help move communities in persistent poverty to sustainable prosperity.

MEMShop was founded in 2012 in partnership with the Mayor's Innovation Delivery Team. The first activation incubated six shops on the then-blighted Broad Avenue.

Several now-thriving businesses have launched or grown with MEMShop's help, including Makeda's, Five in One Social Club, and Memphis Guitar Spa.

It is designed to activate vacant and underused storefronts while giving local businesses a chance to open brick and mortar locations with significantly lower risk than launching on their own. With lower risk comes the space to experiment, dream bigger, and test for viability, scalability, and demand.

Meanwhile, the community benefits from innovative and creative entrepreneurship, new offerings, added vibrancy and activity, and increased visibility and positive perceptions.

“Strong commercial corridors, ideally with local and small businesses, may enhance the surrounding residential neighborhoods by creating a quality neighborhood life experience and increase investment in local business and surrounding neighborhoods,” said United Housing Executive Director Amy Schaftlein.

“And vice versa, it is important the neighborhoods surrounding commercial spaces are vibrant, and United Housing hopes that our partnership will help residents maintain stability in their homes around the commercial corridors of Whitehaven and Frayser."
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Read more articles by Jeff Hulett.

Originally from Chicago, Jeff moved to Memphis in 1990 not really knowing much about the south. In fact, the first week he lived here he was suspended from school for not saying, "yes ma'am" and "no ma'am." Jeff has since developed a passion for Memphis and especially Memphis music. A member of several bands including Snowglobe and Me & Leah, Jeff works as a communications consultant with many non-profits including Playback Memphis, Church Health, Room in the Inn-Memphis and BLDG Memphis. Jeff lives in the Vollintine Evergreen neighborhood with his wife and two daughters.