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Outbreak Wisconsin: ‘I’ve Poured My Life Into This Business’

For New Entrepreneur, Pandemic Is A Time Of Uncertainty

Milwaukee bakery owner Adija Greer-Smith
Adija Greer-Smith, owner of Confectionately Yours bakery in Milwaukee, sits with boxes of cookies she made to donate to front-line workers fighting COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Adija Greer-Smith

Growing up on the northwest side of Milwaukee, Adija Greer-Smith saw plenty of lemonade stands but knew they weren’t for her. She was a baker. So she opened a cookie stand instead in her grandparents’ driveway.

Now 40, and having just opened her bakery business in November 2018, Confectionately Yours, Greer-Smith was prepared for a lot of things to go wrong, but didn’t anticipate a pandemic.

“I have so many different emotions because I’ve poured my life into this business,” she said. “I really didn’t know what would happen.”

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While baking has long been a central part of Greer-Smith’s family, the idea to open her own business is relatively new. She was one of the inaugural batch of almost 30 vendors and entrepreneurs to open in the 25,000-square-foot building now known as Sherman Phoenix. The building, an old BMO Harris Bank building, was fire-damaged in the Sherman Park civil unrest of 2016.

The Phoenix is a space for businesses-of-color providing wellness services, cultural activities, event space and food — including Greer-Smith’s treats. She had seven employees when the Phoenix closed its doors to the public, whom she’s had to temporarily lay off. She said only two of them have been able to access unemployment benefits.

“It was a tough pill to swallow,” she said, “because I don’t have a way to help them meet their needs because I can’t meet mine.”

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“I’ve had to call my mortgage company and ask for relief,” she said. “I’ve had to call my bank that my car note is with and ask for relief, but I’m not the only one.”

Her family also celebrated her oldest son Xavier’s 13th birthday on March 15, two days before Gov. Tony Evers closed public schools statewide.

Greer-Smith became a teacher for Xavier and her other son Malik, 10, after their schools closed under the restrictions. While her kids adjust to distance learning, she’s learning how to keep them engaged academically.

“It’s still hard … I’m not built to be a school teacher,” she said. “School teachers don’t get paid enough money.”

And while both of her sons’ schools have closed for the academic year, the Sherman Phoenix, home of Confectionately Yours, is planning to re-open by next week, offering its signature turtles known as “Marley Paws,” along with cakes, decorative cookies and brittle.

“I kinda have mixed feelings on the relaunch, mainly because I’m not really confident that everything going on with COVID is really under control,” she said. “And I know ultimately it’s going to affect my staff and how comfortable they are. It’s going to affect, of course, me, and my comfort level being around the general public on a regular basis.”

Last week, before heading into her shop for a day of baking, Greer-Smith put on her mask, gloves, and grabbed her sanitizer to wipe down her work spaces.

“This is not how I planned for my year to go, but what do we do?” she said. “My grandmother always used to say, ‘You want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.’”

Editor’s note: Outbreak Wisconsin is a collaborative project by Wisconsin Watch and WPR following Wisconsin residents as they navigate life during the coronavirus pandemic. The residents will contribute diary entries, in the form of audio, video, text, drawings and photos of themselves, their families and personal and professional lives. That content will be supplemented by interviews and digital content to provide a full picture of how the pandemic is affecting all aspects of life in Wisconsin.

Jimmy Gutierrez is the engagement manager for News414, a collaborative project of Wisconsin Watch, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service and Outlier Media.

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