By Dylan Deprey
Striving for better ways to provide better days.
Mike Scrill lives by this motto and ensures to put that “H” in your face, even if you disagree.
Happy Hustlin’ was reborn from the ashes of a failed dream in drug dealing and time behind bars. After rewiring his hustler mentality, Scrill utilized every opportunity available as an entrepreneur to better his situation.
Since 2015, Scrill has held it down for the Milwaukee Mall, and the glittering “Happy Hustlin’” design emblazoned across countless shirts in the community shows its reach.
The Milwaukee Mall, also known as the old Sears building near 17th St. and North Ave., has been a North side landmark for years. Other than the “Under New Management” sign, the mall has looked vacant from the outside for quite some time. But despite the crackling white and rather unwelcoming exterior, a movement was growing inside.
“I knew about all the stigma surrounding the mall and all the obstacles that I would go up against, so everything that I did here at the mall was to lead by example,” Scrill said.
He had a brand, but he also had a message that could not be conveyed by simply preaching to the community from the sidelines. If he was going to try and curb social and economic issues in the community he would have to invest in himself.
“I’m not getting paid like the average person that goes to work and gets a check,” Scrill said. “I’m giving back to the community, I’m out here working and putting every dollar back into the mall.”
Whether it was simply having lines painted in the parking lot, building a social media community or hosting local networking events, he promoted his brand, the mall and the community alongside positivity and self-sufficiency.
Scrill had become the Milwaukee Mall’s self-appointed marketing director, as he plastered ad after ad on social media and linked up with other local businesses in and around the mall. He made the best of what he had and learned as his business grew.
“Even with the stigma of the mall, I’m here to show people that when somebody gives you an opportunity, you grow from what you got,” Scrill said.
Though he promoted the mall as his own, the window of opportunity that had opened for him three years earlier was slowly closing.
60 Days Left: The Countdown to Shutdown Begins
There was no mistaking Scrill, as he sat outside the Milwaukee Mall, brandishing a black shotgun-shell vest filled with body oils strapped across his chest. He had his “Happy Hustlin’” buttons hanging across his camouflage and green glittering, “Happy Hustlin’” shirt.
He smiled as he spoke with vendors pulling in.
He opened the gate to his storefront inside the mall and gave the run down as the word had finally got out that the mall was officially sold to Haywood Group LLC and planned for redevelopment in several local articles.
In “Happy Hustlin’” fashion, Scrill advertised a 50 percent off sale on his social media to kick-off “The Count Down to Shut down.”
He had announced that for the next 60 days he would be closing out on all his merchandise, and all of the proceeds were going toward the Happy Hustlin’ relocation fund.
“This has all been a learning process for me,” Scrill said. “This whole Milwaukee Mall situation has showed me that I can make something out of nothing. So, I’m proud of that, but the only uncertainty right now is finding a new location.”
At the time, there was no specific plan for the redevelopment other than a multi-use building. Scrill said the new owners and Business Improvement District 32 had spoken with the mall vendors about the situation. He said they were told that several relocation possibilities are in the works.
Though he knew the redevelopment was meant to build the community up, he said the situation felt like a double-edged sword.
“I’m not mad that somebody bought the mall and wants to improve the neighborhood, and I’m not part of that plan,” Scrill said. “But, when they say, ‘this is for the community,’ and I’m out here busting and doing work for my people, does that mean that I’m not part of the community?”
30 Days Left: Down, but not Out
A daily countdown on Scrill’s social media reminded people to experience the last living moments of the Milwaukee Mall. Along with his major social media presence, he hosted parking lot barbeques and daily raffles to bring people through.
“The motto now is, ‘Come share memories and make history,’” Scrill said. “I kept it in the concept of other malls we remember like Northridge and Capitol Court.”
He said that people had a chance to create their own memories in the final days of the Lindsey Heights establishment.
Although he wanted to help the community create memories, he said he was down on the whole situation because there were stressful situations and communication issues.
The store looked as if half the stock was left, but sales were the same and the situation had taken a turn. There were talks about vendors being pushed out early from management weeks earlier than reported.
“It was just a lot miscommunication going on,” Scrill said. “I hadn’t seen the new owners since the first time they were in here and everything was being done through the Mall manager.”
He said the last month had been inspiring, but discouraging. It was the fact that for Happy Hustlin’ to survive, he needed to make money for a new location, but after the talks of the redevelopment, the mall was even more of a ghost town than before.
“You know everybody thinks the mall is closed, we’ve got rats, there is no advertising, the public bathroom doesn’t work, and on top of all the issues we still have to pay rent,” Scrill said. “I’m not a normal business. We’re in a poverty-stricken area and I give back whenever I can. In a business sense, it’s bad business, but to me that’s the difference. So, it’s just a tough situation.”
After Scrill announced his frustrations through a Facebook Live video, Kalan Haywood II, Wisconsin State Assembly District 16 candidate and Haywood Group partner, reached out to discuss the situation.
“We just talked about the situation and he offered some resources,” Scrill said. “There was a lot of miscommunication and we just needed to be in the same room and speak on the issues together.”
The Milwaukee Courier reached out to Haywood Group LLC about the situation and are waiting to hear back.
As the days dwindled, so did the Happy Hustlin’ stock. What was once the brightly lit Happy Hustlin’ home base, had eventually become a memory that would be etched into the last chapter in the Milwaukee Mall story.
Scrill had figured out his next move and the relocation was just down a block.
Pop Up MKE: Happy Hustlin’ Reborn
It was nearly a month later and Happy Hustlin’ was finally hosting its Grand Opening at its new pop up location, a block over on 16th and North.
Scrill swept glass from his store front as somebody had broken a window above the shop door the night before. Though he had a rough start to the morning, he did not let anything get him down.
He smiled from ear-to-ear as friends, family and fellow entrepreneurs came to celebrate Happy Hustlin’s month stay at its new location, with help from Pop Up MKE.
The pilot program is an accelerator project that works to place local entrepreneurs in commercial corridors across the city. Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) coordinates the program in partnership with the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation (WBBIC), the City of Milwaukee, three Historic Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) and MKE United.
“My agenda here is to gather a different audience and reach out to my people and build Happy Hustlin’ to show them what striving for better really is,” Scrill said.
He said that having been at the location for a week or so, he had already witnessed several incidents within the community. From neighbors on drugs to police chases ripping along North Ave., Scrills said he has continued to reach out to his people.
“I love the space we’re at because it allows me to test who I’m striving to be, and make an impact on this area that I cherish,” Scrill said.
He added that the location also brought in different groups of people through his shop with the Juice Kitchen being next door.
“There is way more foot traffic than the Milwaukee Mall,” Scrill said. “If I can’t get new customers, that’s totally on me because there are people always on the street.”
Along with a new location, Happy Hustlin’ also has a new roommate, Basia Rose Designs.
Basia Spencer, Basia Rose Designs owner, designer and seamstress, said she was blessed to be matched with Scrill for the Pop Up MKE program.
Basia Rose Designs specializes in custom fashion and alterations
“We really go hand in hand because he does the printing and I do the sewing,” Spencer said. “Whatever you need customized whether it is urban wear or whether it is for a special occasion, we can supply that for you.”
Scrill said that sharing the storefront was a perfect match for business and in life.
“I have my daughters here all the time, helping me out and stuff, and now instead of just me, they have a young female entrepreneur that looks like them and is creative to look up to,” Scrill said.
Scrill said he would miss the Milwaukee Mall, but the between the Milwaukee Mall drama and Pop Up opportunity, his situations were simply stepping stones for a bigger picture to strive for better days. He said that by the end of the Pop-Up cycle he hoped to raise enough money for another location.
“I just want to show people that It doesn’t matter what cards I’ve been dealt,” Scrill said. “I’m going to play those cards and by the time I’m done, I’m going to change the whole deck.”
For more information on Happy Hustlin’ visit https://www.facebook.com/happyhustlinmke/