Kristine (Kris) Shelstad of Madison saw the need for a multipurpose space in her community. She was chosen as a 2022-2023 Initiators Fellow, which provided her with funding and technical assistance to bring her social enterprise to life. The Madison Mercantile, known locally as “The Merc,” now houses a coffee shop, stage for live music, multiple business offices, space for community meetings and gatherings, youth hang out space, woodworking shop and more.
At The Merc, people have a place to connect, create friendships and build support systems. They talk about their families and pets, ideas for community events, ancestry, survivorship, caretaking and art.
“Happy accidents and synergy happen every day, and you never know when you’re going to meet someone you didn’t know you needed to know,” Kris said.
Kris has inspired the community to step up in other ways; one community member saw what Kris was doing and wrote a grant for murals and downtown beautification. “There’s an energy here that ignites people who otherwise wouldn’t have had a place to form those ideas,” Kris said.
Kris is grateful for her neighbors who support her social enterprise; she also credits Southwest Initiative Foundation for facilitating connection, investing in her work and cheering her on. “SWIF has been critical to the success of The Merc. We wouldn’t be here. They validated that my ideas were a real thing and saw the value in me wanting to build a stronger community,” Kris said.
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