New 'I Love Ferguson' Store Aims to Support Local Businesses, Community Unity
You've seen the lawn signs; now everything from T-shirts to coffee mugs bearing the "I Love Ferguson" logo will be sold at a new store opening Friday.
The "I Love Ferguson" store, which originally used space in the Corner Coffee House, is located at 299 S. Florissant Rd. It will sell hoodies, bags, stickers, mittens and pins. According to the chairman of the nonprofit committee behind the store, Brian Fletcher, more than 6,000 "I Love Ferguson" T-shirts in a wide-array of colors have been acquired.
"We don't sell anything, that's the way I say it," Fletcher said. "You make a donation of this amount, you get a free T-shirt. You make a donation of this amount, you get a free coffee mug. We're not in the retail business; we're in the hope business, we're in the love business."
According to Fletcher, all the money raised through sales will go to the nonprofit Reinvest North County, which will earmark those dollars for local businesses impacted by vandalism and looting during protests following Michael Brown's shooting death.
"I committed to every business that received damage, they will be 100 percent fully compensated," Fletcher said. "Our public doesn’t know that the insurance policies these companies had does not cover acts of riot, war or terrorism. We want to make sure they stay here and thrive."
So far, the committee has given away $5,000, and it will present another $5,000 check at Friday's grand opening. Fletcher said the committee has made gross sales of more than $51,000. But he said the actual profits have been around $15,000, after covering the cost of items. The committee has also received free labor, rent, carpeting and other items for the new storefront to keep expenses minimal.
Fletcher said he hopes the storefront will help bring in more dollars as people shop for products ahead of the holiday season; and he hopes to expand into other products with possibly other logos. But he said he knows that "everything has a shelf life," and the store will only stay open as long as there is interest.
Inspiration behind store
A former Ferguson mayor, Fletcher has been wanting to spread the love for the city after seeing media descriptions of it during coverage of the protests following Brown's death. "The language we were hearing was 'a suburban ghetto,'" he said. "This doesn’t describe the city of Ferguson. I said, 'What can we do to get the narrative changed, to show what we really are?'"
He said he was inspired to start the initial lawn sign campaign by religious and political signage he saw around town. He said more than 10,500 lawn signs have been given out, and people report seeing them in 16 countries and 39 states
Fletcher said he recognizes there's a divide in Ferguson, but he said most communities, particularly those outside a large city, have one.
"We’re not unique to this world. Unfortunately, the shooting of Michael Brown occurred here," he said. "God must have felt Ferguson was strong enough overcome this, not only to do good, but to become a model community on how to handle race relations."
He also noted the divide in the perception of the "I Love Ferguson" campaign itself.
"I know some people say, 'Well, I Love Ferguson - is that only for white people?'" he said. "Well, I'll be honest with you, a large chunk of (our supporters) are Caucasians. But we do have African-Americans involved. They are buying our T-shirts, they are getting our signs."
Fletcher said he hopes the storefront's profits "can help heal the community." He said he also hopes the community responds to the "acts of kindness" the committee has performed, such as a donation drive for Ferguson food pantries and a free, safe "Pumpkin Walk" for children that is scheduled for Sunday afternoon.
Fletcher said he hopes these activities will get people out of their comfort zones, to talk to each other, to be more giving. That way, Fletcher said, the community can change, and Brown's death won't be in vain.
"Michael Brown ... that's our legacy at this time. Now does that narration change in two to three years when a community's so affected by change and rebounding that they're a model city of how to handle racial harmony throughout the United States?" Fletcher said. "Would that not be the great story in two to three years? That's my hope and my goal, but again, God knows and time will tell."