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.