Black woman-owned business that has given to community for years seeks help in surviving pandemic

MADISON, Wis. — In the Heritage Square Shopping Center on South Whitney Way sits a children’s retail store that’s made a home there for the past seven years.

Happily Ever After Children’s Resale Boutique is a business that started when its owner Marilyn Harper impulsively decided to do something good with the space when she drove by and saw it was empty.

“It was just a spur of the moment idea,” Harper said. “I’m a foster parent and I work with young people also with developmental disabilities and I thought it would be an excellent opportunity for them to get some training in retail. We met and I gave him my vision and within a matter of hours I had signed the lease and I called my husband and I said, ‘Guess what? I signed the lease and I’m going to be opening a children’s resale store.’ He said ,’Are you crazy? You’ve only been a teacher. You don’t know anything about retail.’ And I said, ‘Well I’m going to learn.'”

The idea was something that a lot of people thought was too far-stretched.

“They actually laughed at my idea of having done this and they were like there’s no way in a town like Madison that White people would ever come and buy used children’s clothes from a Black woman,” Harper said.

But her confidence in herself and her mission earned her many badges of success throughout the years.

“We are extremely successful,” Harper said. “We are the only Black-owned retail store that has won Best of Madison twice.”

Harper’s mission of being a training ground for those with disabilities and fostered youth grew into helping a much wider community throughout the years by helping others make their wildest dreams come true too.

“I used a significant amount of the profits from my store to give loans to other Black women and donate to other organizations that had a focus of helping women and children,” Harper said.

While her plans have gotten her far, the pandemic set her back.

“I would say we’ve lost virtually almost 100% of our income that was coming in because we just don’t have the customer base,” she said.

As a small business owner who has helped many throughout the years, she’s now leaning on the community to lend her a hand during these tough times.

“We want more support, quite frankly, from the Black community, because like I said, 98% of my customer base are White people in Madison,” she said.

With the national conversation around supporting Black-owned businesses and being an ally to the Black community, Harper is hoping her years of good work will come back around and give her the Happily Ever After she envisioned all those years ago.

“A lot of people say that they’re anti-racist and they want to be allies. This is a concrete way of being an ally,” she explained. “Making certain that you support Black-owned businesses so that we can thrive and continue to be in Madison and continue to be successful.”

If you would like to help, Harper is asking people to shop in store, donate gently used children’s clothes, donate to her Venmo account @JohnsonEA20, send donations through PayPal at marilynv@tds.net, or donate to the GoFundMe page here.

Harper said she also accepts consignments and will pay cash on the spot for clothes you bring in to the store.