Jasmine Walter is used to working Black Friday at Rushmore Mall — but not as a store's owner.
"Last December, I quit my job and decided to just do this," she said Friday afternoon, standing at her kiosk at a vendor fair in the busy Rapid City shopping complex. Her business — Tailored Faith Co. — is a handcrafted jewelry company she started three years ago as a church fundraiser that has grown into her full-time job, with orders online coming in from as far away as New Zealand. "There's always a lot of excitement, but there's some nerves this year, too."
Walter's dream would be someday to have her own brick-and-mortar business. But, for now, she has her online business, occasional pop-ups, and now, for two weeks, this kiosk, sandwiched between Rue 21 and Charlotte Russe.
"It's hard for me to sell my own work," Walter said, standing before necklaces and earrings. "Working for somebody else, I'm like, 'Hey, how's it going? Look at this!' But with my own stuff, I'm still learning the best approach."
Retail is changing, as evidenced by the fleeter shopping options this Black Friday out at Rushmore Mall. Earlier this year West River's largest shopping complex underwent an ownership change after the management team was unable to pay nearly $100 million in loans. The bank temporarily took over the operations, and the new receiver — Syracuse-based Spinoso Real Estate Group — received a 7th Circuit Court judge's approval this summer.
As on past Black Fridays, the biggest shopping day of the year, cars flooded the parking lot at Rushmore Mall, shoppers packed the corridors, and Santa was set up for photographs.
But this year, there's also a small vendor fair — one of an array of additions including more advertising and community partners — that management hopes will spell brighter times for the shopping giant.
And the future may look like Walter's jewelry stand.
Walter went to school for worship music in Colorado, never dreamed of making her own jewelry and has learned entrepreneurship from the ground-up. She started selling her jewelry, such as necklaces made of shiny discs hand-stamped with Bible verses such as "Don't despise the small beginnings," as a hobby and fundraiser for her church. She set and met an audacious goal of $10,000 for Bethel Church in Rapid City.
"I thought I'd literally be a 90-year-old woman making jewelry," Walter laughed.
But within two years of making jewelry at nights and on weekends after work, she not only helped earn more than $10,000 in proceeds, she also developed a passion.
"I liked what I was doing and wanted to keep doing it," said Walter.
So last year, she made the decision to jump with both feet into life as a small business owner and quit her job at a property management group.
"It's been a crazy year," said Walter. "And a steady build."
Tailored Faith Co. now has an online store, a social media presence, and has appeared as a pop-up business, such as most recently at a local hardware store. She leans into partnering with local businesses, as shown by her Dixon Coffee Co. merchandise in a gift bag at her kiosk, and she has learned a thing or two in her short time about blending the online and face-to-face vendor experiences.
"I've had people who follow me online who will target me when I do have a pop-up location," said Walter. "So I can create demand that way."
Deb Peter, general manager for Rushmore Mall, says small and creative vendors, who may have started their businesses as passion-projects and are rooted in the community, can be reached by the click of a phone, but still desire that physical space and can make good partners for the mall.
"All retailers, whether you're here or in Hawaii, want to satisfy shoppers' needs," said Peter. "As you see shoppers change, the industry must change."
Since Spinoso took over this summer, Peter said the mall's management team has integrated an "aggressive" leasing program, with in-line stores at 98 percent rented. "We do still have two big box stores," said Peter, acknowledging the losses of Herberger's and Sears. "And we're specifically holding onto them and are having great conversations at the moment."
While the vendors may change, the mall on a Black Friday is still the economic juggernaut of holiday shopping.
"The craziness isn't as crazy, but maybe that's okay if people aren't punching each other out in the aisles," said Walter, who prior to starting her own business had run the mall gamut working at clothiers Aéropostale and American Eagle to Starbucks.
Walter's jewelry kiosk is open through the end of November, and the vendor fair adjacent to her stand runs through Small Business Saturday (today), 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The mall also will be home to Santa Claus through Christmas, and Peter encourages people wishing to see the Big Man to stop by Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., to enjoy one tradition you can't get through Amazon.
Editor's note: Five We're Thankful For is a series of five articles profiling people who are doing good for our community. This is the third in that series.
Since retiring on Sept. 28, former Pinedale Elementary School head custodian Mark Meier has kept busy.
"He's probably hunting," said principal Chip Franke, when asked how to get hold of Meier.
Meier, 59, spent last month moose hunting in Newfoundland and goes fishing for walleye at Angostura. He spends a few mornings a week working as a janitor for a Lutheran church in town.
But the recreation is deserved after five years at Pinedale, 23 years at Pennington County Housing and especially after a hectic afternoon just two weeks before he retired.
Earlier this fall, Meier's steady hand during a near-crisis at the school left many people in the Pinedale school community thankful for the mild-mannered custodian.
"I just wanted to make sure I kept calm and all the kids kept calm," he said. "Teachers, too."
Meier returned last week to the principal's office to talk about that day. Students, meanwhile, trotted past, waving at a friend who hadn't been around in awhile.
"Hey, Mr. Mark!" they said.
"When people ask if I have any kids, I say, 'No, I have 425 of them,'" Meier said.
A custodian is known for keeping out of the limelight, but when a parent called in — in what turned out to be a false report that led to misdemeanor charges for the caller — to report a school shooting at Pinedale, Meier was thrust into a more public role.
"We were sitting right here just chatting at the end of the day when an officer came bounding toward the school," Franke recalled.
No one had alerted Pinedale of a possible threat. The administration treated the threat as real, initiating ALICE protocol for the first time in Rapid City Area Schools' history. Within minutes, nearly 20 law enforcement agents, including from the U.S. Forest Service and Game, Fish and Parks, were on school property.
"They knew what to do," said Franke.
And so did the custodian. With teachers locked down in classrooms with students, Meier helped law enforcement into the building and directed them to where they needed to be, Franke said. Then, with the threat abated, administrators told parents — lined up at day's end to pick up children — to meet with their kids at the tennis court nearby. One by one, classrooms filed down to the tennis courts. Meier, Franke said, stepped up to help reunite parents and kids.
"They were pretty good," Meier said. "Only a few were crying a little bit."
"He was very calm and did not panic," said Franke.
Meier may be enjoying retirement, but nervous parents will stay thankful for his cool under pressure. Meier shakes it off the same way he dismisses any outsized admiration for doing the school's dirty work.
"Someone's gotta do it," he said.
SIOUX FALLS | After years of unsuccessful attempts, supporters of legislation that would allow people to carry concealed handguns without a permit in South Dakota anticipate revived prospects for the conservative prize once GOP Gov.-elect Kristi Noem takes office in January.
The legislation languished under retiring Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard, but Noem offered support for a so-called constitutional carry law during her campaign. Incoming GOP Sen. Lynne DiSanto, sponsor of a permitless concealed carry bill that Daugaard vetoed, said such legislation is likely in the upcoming session and she's optimistic about its prospects.
"There are a lot of Republicans that are very excited to have a conservative governor," said DiSanto, a state representative who is switching chambers. "I think under a new governor it's very likely to pass."
Daugaard has said the state's current gun laws are reasonable. Right now, it's a misdemeanor for someone to carry a concealed pistol or to have one concealed in a vehicle without a permit. At the end of October, there were nearly 108,000 pistol permits in South Dakota, according to the Secretary of State's office.
Daugaard vetoed DiSanto's proposal in 2017 and also rejected a similar measure in 2012; constitutional carry legislation failed during the 2018 session after he issued a veto threat. Bill supporters have argued that getting a concealed pistol permit can be burdensome.
Backers are likely to get a boost from Noem, who triumphed over Democratic state Sen. Billie Sutton in the November election. Noem in January urged passage of a permitless carry bill.
At the time Noem didn't endorse a specific plan, though her campaign said she supported the policy "in principle." Transition team spokeswoman Kristin Wileman said in a statement this week that Noem won't commit to legislation until she can review its text, but said she's a strong Second Amendment supporter and thinks provisions like constitutional carry can "protect and even strengthen this right for South Dakotans."
"The governor-elect will work to find a way that law enforcement and gun rights proponents can come together around a solution," Wileman said.
Staci Ackerman, executive director of the South Dakota Sheriffs' Association, said the group hasn't discussed 2019 legislation yet. But Ackerman said the organization supported a bill in the 2018 session that allowed permitless carry for state residents with a South Dakota driver's license or identification card; the measure didn't advance out of the Senate.
The 2019 session is scheduled to run Jan. 8 to March 29. Republicans will control both chambers.
The 21st annual Festival of Lights Parade, set for 6 p.m. tonight in downtown Rapid City, could be one for the record books, organizers say.
“We have about 90 entries signed up,” said parade chairwoman Connie Olson. “That is close to being a record.”
More than 30,000 people are expected to line the parade route along Main, Seventh and St. Joseph Streets for the dazzling kickoff of the holiday season in downtown Rapid City, with glowing floats covered in thousands of lights, including horse-drawn carriages, animated scenes on flatbed trucks, sparkling vehicles and animals adorned in holiday décor.
One of the event sponsors, Black Hills Energy of Rapid City, is expected to debut a brand new float this year, Olson said.
“They’re keeping it a secret and are pretty excited about it,” he added.
Other event sponsors include Black Hills Federal Credit Union, Casey Peterson Certified Public Accountants & Financial Advisors, and Youth and Family Services of Rapid City.
The parade begins at East Boulevard and Main Street and continues west along Main Street to Seventh Street. The parade turns to the south on Seventh, then returns to East Boulevard on St. Joseph Street.
As in past years, parking will be restricted on Main and St. Joe between Fifth Street and Seventh Street, and on Seventh Street between Main and St. Joseph, with all cars to be removed from along those streets by 4:30 p.m. Saturday.
Olson said more than 100 volunteers from a number of local organizations help with the parade, from parking to crowd control before, during and after the event.
People are encouraged to come early and to be patient, Olson said. The Rapid City Police Dept. will be directing traffic out of the area after the parade.
“The goal is always to make it a good parade and a safe parade,” she said.