You are currently viewing From dorm shop to storefront, this Peoria business owner is challenging the age limits associated with entrepreneurship

From dorm shop to storefront, this Peoria business owner is challenging the age limits associated with entrepreneurship

Being a student is tough, and so is running a small business. And doing both at the same time isn’t a challenge many are willing to take on, especially when your storefront doubles as a dorm.

This is how Peorian BreAija Bryant started her business B2the9s Custom Designs in 2014.

“Going into my freshman year, I decided to start a clothing line, so I went through all the steps and became a sole proprietor, got my reseller license, and found sellers… I did a lot of trial and error and brought my business back to Western with me after the summer, and shopped right out of my individual dorm,” Bryant said.

B2the9s is now a gift shop located in the Northwoods Mall that focuses on personalization, as well as a DIY option that allows customers to create meaningful gifts for any occasion. The store also offers clothing like dresses and jackets, as well as National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs (NACWC) items and accessories.

“I’m one of three verified national vendors we have, so I decided to create a little section for them in the store so they can come in, grab the things they need, and leave,” Bryant explained. .

NACWC was founded in 1896 and is the first African-American women’s organization in the United States. Bryant was a founding member and vice president of the Western Illinois University chapter while studying there.

Bryant found herself incredibly busy during her college years at Western Illinois University. Along with being vice president of the NACWC, Bryant was also a full-time cheerleader as well as the social media representative for the group, a theater student, and the president of the campus Girl Scouts. She liked to be busy and kept looking for new opportunities.

“I thought about starting a business because I had an agreement with my parents that I wouldn’t take a part-time job while I was there because I’ve done so much, and I thought starting a business was kind of like a really good escape,” says Bryant.

That idea was put on hold after Bryant received tragic news at the end of his first semester of sophomore year.

“I came home and the next day one of my best friends passed away. It was extremely difficult so I decided to stay home for the second semester… I kind of reassessed some things with what I was doing and my life… I said, you know what, while I’m home, I’m going to make some adjustments before I go back to Western for the start of the junior year,” Bryant recalled.

From there, Bryant told his mother, who was also a business owner, that she wanted to start her own business. His mother quickly gave him the green light and B2the9s was born that summer.

“When I went to my dorm, my mom helped me set it up, and we set it up to basically look like a boutique. I had a red lounge chair, I had mannequins… I loved it I put mirrors everywhere so when people came to buy they could see what it looked like…I brought all my inventory…I really did my research…which was so great in all this is what i used Squareand Square was free,” Bryant said.

Within the city of macomb, Bryant said there were no places to buy fashionable women’s clothing for things like cheerleading events, outings with friends or ceremonies. This lack of options quickly made her dorm the hotspot for quality, fashionable items, especially around homecoming.

“That’s kind of when I exploded…I had 20 people in one day calling me…people were literally coming anytime I had…I was almost exhausted and I had so many things…I didn’t expect it to be so busy,” Bryant said.

Of course, says Bryant, as the start of the school year calmed down, she also had periods of downturns in business, but as a student, everything helped.

After earning a degree in political science, communications, and theater, Bryant worked a series of jobs at various locations while maintaining his business on the side. Years later, after having children and being dissatisfied with her job, she decided to take the plunge, quitting her job and dedicating all of her time to B2the9s custom designs.

“I felt like the best accessibility for marketing and everything else was Northwoods Mall…I had seen the space in December…I went ahead, put down my deposit. I got my keys in February and then it just started to run from there,” Bryant explained.

Bryant in front of his storefront in Northwoods Shopping Center

The store had its grand opening in the Northwoods mall on April 16, 2022, 8 years after its dormitory launched. Although Bryant said she loved her college experience and felt like it was the right path for her, even though she wasn’t working in the field she thought she was, she wants to make sure that other young entrepreneurs know that university is not for everyone.

“It’s normal to change your mind. It’s good to decide if I’m going to be a business owner, which anyone can do, I’m going to be a business owner… college isn’t for everyone, and that go… there are other ways to live your life and be happy and make money. Just do what you want to do, and entrepreneurship is a big part of that. Small businesses rule the world right now. I want them to know that you can learn these skills right now. You don’t have to wait. There is no age limit for owning a business,” Bryant said.

She said this message is especially important for children in Peoria.

“I feel like sometimes they put themselves down because they feel like Peoria is kinda nothing, and there’s Chicago, and there’s these places and this place, and it’s not about just where you come from. That’s how we make it better… Peoria is still growing. We still have a lot to offer, and you can be part of it,” Bryant said.

In an effort to provide area high school students with a hands-on opportunity to learn these entrepreneurial skills, Bryant is partnering with Peoria Public Schools Lights on program to allow students to work in his store, while earning minimum wage. With Bryant’s mentorship, they can choose to focus on disciplines such as sign making, t-shirt design, store management, and more.

Bryant said the biggest benefit she can offer children potentially standing in shoes similar to the ones she wore 8 years ago is asking for help.

“There are so many people who have skills, and it’s not a stolen skill, or something that someone doesn’t want to give to someone else. I have so many things that I learned on my own, and I wish I had asked someone or found a mentor to teach me how to do those things,” Bryant said.

While asking for help or asking someone to teach you something new can be daunting, chances are the person you’re asking will be glad you thought of them, and generally, the people are eager to pass on all the knowledge they can to younger people. generations to support a better future.

B2the9s Custom Designs is open Monday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. on the lower level of Northwoods Shopping Center.

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