In the past few years, development in northern Brunswick County has exploded, drawing in big businesses hoping to supply the growing consumer demands. Now, one small business owner wants to ensure Leland mom-and-pop shops can carve out a niche of their own.
Since opening her own women’s clothing warehouse in Leland two years ago, Anna Dee has seen how difficult it can be for a small business just to survive.
“I think during the pandemic small businesses, just like everyone, are going through tough times with the cost of goods going up,” Dee said.”I know it’s a struggle for a lot of businesses out there.”
Dee said one of the biggest challenges for small businesses in Leland is getting the public to know they’re out there and carving space amid all the big-box retail development and national chains coming to the area. That’s why she’s using her facility’s parking lot to start a monthly small business and vendor pop-up marketplace, which she hopes will highlight the talent in town.
“My goal is to provide a space to small businesses, especially people locally in Leland and Brunswick County so that we can spotlight the community here,” Dee said. “And definitely making space for young women because I think, statistically, the odds are not always in our favor.”
The first event will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, April 24 at 2339 Mercantile Drive NE in Leland.
The Mothershippers Marketplace – named for her clothing store AlienOutfitters – will feature 12 booths for small businesses or hand-crafted products and two food trucks. Dee said she wants the market to offer a unique experience for vendors and customers, a “Brunswick block party” feel rather than a typical vendor market.
She started out visiting pop-up shops in Wilmington, where she met other Brunswick County small businesses, before deciding it was time for Leland to have a space of their own.
“As an entrepreneur, you think, well, I could put this on myself and provide an even bigger opportunity for my business and others. So we it was just a no-brainer,” Dee said.
“I feel like sometimes people think going over the bridge is like going across the country but with how fast we’re growing and how many people are here they deserve something really special and incredible.”
Dee said she plans to hold the pop-ups on the last Sunday of the month, and if the marketplace grows they may move inside their 5,000-square-foot warehouse, where neon green pillars set the tone for the Mothershippers otherworldly vibe.
Ultimately she envisions a family-friendly party atmosphere, where people come as much for the DJ playing disco and face painters as they do for the hand-crafted goods.
Doreen Kaye, a Leland-based pottery maker, said she’ll be shopping at the first event and hopes to set up a booth in the future.
“I know some of my friends were looking for something like this,” Kaye said. “It’s exciting, not just for the marketplace but to meet up with other vendors there.”
According to Dana Fischer, executive director of the North Brunswick Chamber of Commerce, though growth in Leland has brought in more national chains and big-box stores, they don’t have to be a detriment to small businesses.
“Depending on the business, if they’re not in direct competition, it can be an opportunity for small businesses to create a space for themselves,” she said. “Many of them can’t afford a 7,000-square-foot space in a shopping mall, but being around that central hub is beneficial.”
Fischer said big businesses can often pave the way for the kind of development and traffic that local small businesses can then take advantage of.
If the Mothershippers Market goes well, Dee said, she hopes it will become a central hub of the Leland community, whether they’re looking to buy, sell, or just soak in the spectacle.
“It’s going to be an experience,” she said. “Even if you come here not to buy anything, someone’s gonna make you feel special and you’re gonna leave with a smile on your face. That’s what I’m manifesting.”
Reporter John Orona can be reached at 910-343-2327 or [email protected]