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Three new businesses share the D.R.I.P. retail incubator in Decatur

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Three new businesses share the D.R.I.P. retail incubator in Decatur

Mary Ellen Sheehan, left, and Htwe Htwe, right, co-owners of Royal Thanaka Skincare, share information about their products and the Decatur Retail Incubator Program (D.R.I.P.) at the Decatur Business Association's meeting on Tuesday. Right: The sign for the D.R.I.P. retail incubator program. Photos by Cathi Harris

By Cathi Harris, contributor 

Decatur, GA — The first thing Mike Loyd wants you to know about his company, Dope Coffee, is that it’s about way more than coffee. 

“I am really a hip hop native, born in 1984,” he says. “That is what I grew up with, what everyone I know grew up with. And, when you go to a hip hop show, like literally everyone there is from all walks of life. It transcends race and geography. It is an art form that everyone is familiar with, and I wanted to do that with coffee. So, initially [the brand] was about coffee and sharing Black culture and having Black space. But, when we thought more about it, we decided we didn’t want to just make another group. We wanted to break down barriers.”

In addition to organic coffee and coffee products from East Africa and Central America, Dope also produces and promotes local hip hop and visual artists. Stace Loyd, Mike’s cousin and a partner in the business, describes each offering as a “digital cultural product” that also features artwork on the label that ties in with tracks on their self-produced album, Spinach.

“We wanted to see if we could do something to promote artists that was different from the typical way of doing business,” Stace Loyd told Decaturish. Eventually, they hope to work with more local artists to promote both the artists, the coffee products and the culture in a way that is collaborative and mutually beneficial, they said.

Their first step in Atlanta is as part of the new Decatur Retail Incubator Program (D.R.I.P.). Dope is one of three businesses chosen to share the D.R.I.P. retail space at 431 W. Ponce for six months as they prepare to open their brick and mortar businesses, says Downtown Program Manager Shirley Baylis.

In addition to the physical space, each business owner is assigned a mentor from an existing Decatur business who will help guide them. They will also participate in training seminars on things like marketing, negotiating commercial leases, human resources, and business accounting and finance, she said.

“Our ultimate goal is to see them go out and open their own space,” she added.

For Buzz Busbee, owner of clothing and lifestyle brand, ABETTERBUZZ, the D.R.I.P. is providing an opportunity to explore taking his mostly mobile and online lifestyle business to a retail outlet.

“This is an opportunity to test new products in person and to see what our products look like in a store versus online,” Busbee says. “We built it as an online, direct-to-consumer brand. So, to find out if we want to have a retail space, this is the way to do it. Right now, the only way to see our products in stores is through some of our wholesale partners.”

ABETTERBUZZ sells apparel and goods with colorful, unique and locally inspired designs. 

“The best way to describe it is pride: city pride, we are based in Atlanta; sexuality pride–our main customers are the gay community as well,” Busbee said.  “It is all pride driven. And we are now coming out with some Decatur-themed products in time for Black Friday.”

Mary Ellen Sheehan and Htwe Htwe, two of the owners of Royal Thanaka Skin Care, say they are excited to have the opportunity to share their products with customers in person after building a thriving online business.

“We are also in the [shop] at the Atlanta Botanical Garden,” Sheehan says. “It really helps for people to feel the cream on their skin and then they love it.”

She and Htwe are former colleagues from the International Community School and decided to go into business together.

Thanaka is the name of a tree native to Myanmar (Burma), says Htwe. Traditionally, Burmese people grind the bark of the tree into a powder, make a paste with water, and apply it to their skin. It is used to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and blemishes, even out the skin tone and moisturize the skin, she said.

Royal Thanaka sources its Thanaka powder from a farm in Myanmar and its products contain a higher percentage of pure Thanka than other commercial preparations. The company is committed to paying all of its workers a living wage, using only sustainable harvesting practices, as well as environmentally sound packaging and ethical business practices, she and Sheehan said.

More information about Decatur’s retail incubator program can be found on the city’s website here.

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