A New Eye for Community

It has been a year since we closed our doors at Eclectic Eye because of a global pandemic. It has been 10 months since we re-opened.

What have we learned? How are we changed?

When the pandemic reality started to take shape, I was overwhelmed, desperate and confused. Every trauma trigger was active. I felt terrified, lonely and lost.

I see now that there were a few specific things that saved my life during those first 60 days. A savings account. My family of four all under the same roof. A comforting home, as well as neighbors and a neighborhood that provided a safe haven.

I felt the shaky confidence that our business could survive this. It might be forever changed, but I felt deep in my gut we could survive it.

A few weeks ago, scrolling through Instagram, I noticed Andrea Fenise’s GoFundMe ask: “Help (Me) Rebuild Big Mamas House.”

I had met Andrea years ago through Memphis Fashion Week. She is a local blogger, stylist, designer and all-around interesting human. I had been drawn to her kind, inclusive, calming demeanor.

Was she building a new house for her family? Was she helping a friend? Whatever it was, I was intrigued, especially in light of the chaotic year we have all endured.

When I opened the page, Andrea had written this:

“I bought the home of Eunice Alma Harris Malone, my paternal great-grandmother, in Hyde Park, North Memphis, Tennessee. Big Mama, who I so affectionately called her, was well loved and revered in Hyde Park. She was the community’s kindergarten teacher and an herbalist. She lived a well and long life well into her 90s. My grandfather sold her home in 1988 after her passing.”

Andrea had never stopped thinking about the house in Hyde Park that held so many memories for her family. She is working to restore “all of the heart and soul my Big Mama put into this home.” It is a daunting task: Termites and squatters had made the home uninhabitable, so she decided to raze the original house and build it back better.

For a moment, I didn’t realize that Andrea was talking about a local, Memphis neighborhood, because I wasn’t familiar with Hyde Park. I discovered the neighborhood is only 3.7 miles from our business.

I made a donation to Andrea’s campaign. She messaged me almost immediately with a teary-eyed video thanking me for my support, which was lovely. But something else was simmering in me about this project.

One of the things that came out of 2020 has been an awakening to the injustices that continue to plague our systems. Memphis contains them all. It is not lost on me that the terrified, lost, powerless feeling I had as the pandemic closed my business a year ago is one that many of my neighbors live with daily. For them, it never goes away.

In Memphis, our neighborhoods tell that story in a color-coded map of the racial discrimination, systemic oppression, disinvestment and the marginalization of Black people. Perhaps I didn’t know about the Hyde Park neighborhood, I thought, because I am white.

When my husband Mike and I were scouting locations in Midtown for our business in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Midtown was depressed. Although we were a brand-new business concept and opening in an area that commercial real estate brokers advised against, we were still able to get the financing we needed to open.

Last year, during the pandemic, Eclectic Eye applied for and received a loan from the federal Paycheck Protection Program. Then, in February, that loan was forgiven. When we were scared and hurting, our government helped us stay on our feet with what was, essentially, a handout.

Who is helping the Hyde Park neighborhood?

Andrea Fenise, that’s who. She has a dream to restore a community that matters to her. Mike and I had a dream to build a business in a community we love, too. Yet the tools that are available to us aren’t necessarily available in Hyde Park. Banks aren’t as willing to loan money in this historic community, and the emotional capital needed for investment there is being spent just helping people survive.

There is no reason the people of Hyde Park shouldn’t have the safety, comfort and connection – not to mention a grocery store within walking distance – that my family and I had in the darkest part of the pandemic.

If Eclectic Eye is successful because Mike and I had help to realize our dream, then Andrea and Hyde Park deserve a fighting chance, too.

We will keep doing the best job we can to help others, in non-traditional ways, to live into the dreams they were born to manifest. We have made a donation from our successful Annual Sale to helping Andrea build her dream in Hyde Park. I hope you’ll consider joining us.