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Thursday January 20th

Ferguson store owner gets unlikely help from a UNC student, strangers

A UNC student is raising money for a boutique that was destroyed in the riots.

<p>Courtesy of Juanita Morris</p>
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Courtesy of Juanita Morris

Unlike many, the Ferguson shop owner also had to watch her 28-year-old business, Fashions R Boutique, burn to the ground on live television.

But thanks to the work of a group of college students and the kindness of more than 550 strangers, over $17,800 has been raised online to rebuild Morris’ store as of press time.

UNC freshman Eric Lee saw the burning buildings and broken store fronts on the news. He said he was inspired to help the affected small business owners in Ferguson, an area 25 minutes from his St. Louis home.

“There are a lot of completely innocent people, completely unrelated to the Michael Brown incident,” he said. “They are being victimized by the violence and the looting, and I thought that was unfair.”

Morris said she was devastated about her loss but not angry.

“I could talk about my business for hours because that was a part of me,” she said.“It was not only my love — it was my passion.”

After conceiving the idea to raise money for the affected businesses in his dorm room the night of the grand jury decision, Lee said he gathered the support of his friends and began calling the media and the police to find business owners’ contact information. Alex Conway, a freshman at St. Louis University, has been working with Lee on the effort to rebuild the Fashions R Boutique.

“We wanted to do something that was completely bipartisan,” Conway said. “Her store was very much a community as much as it was a business.”

Morris began Fashions R Boutique, selling what she calls “church women suits” and related accessories, out of her home in 1986. She said she has worked hard over the years to expand to her current 5,000-square-foot store on Florissant Ave. in Ferguson.

“The store was not just a regular boutique. The store was like a ministry,” she said. “When they just needed to get away, they would come spend hours just wandering around the store — just looking.”

Morrison said she supported the community by giving away hats to bereaved women who could not afford them and putting a couch and television in her store for women to sit and talk. She said the roles have switched since the fire.

“Instead of me blessing them, they are in return blessing me,” she said.

Lee created Morris’ fundraising page on GoFundMe, an online donation website.

While the listed donation goal for Morris’ GoFundMe is $20,000, Lee said he hopes to surpass this goal. According to GoFundMe, 5 percent will be deducted by GoFundMe from each donation received,and 3 percent processing fee is applied to each donation given, but the rest of the money will benefit Fashions R Boutique. Morris says she plans to use the money to buy new inventory and to rebuild her storefront.

She said she plans to move into a temporary location as soon as possible but ultimately plans to reopen her store in the same location. She said she is hopeful for the future.

“God blessed me for 28 years to build that store on nothing, and I started with very little money and built that store,” she said. “And I can build again. I have faith enough that I can build again.”

university@dailytarheel.com



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