CHARLOTTE, N.C. According to Jennifer Branham, I totally missed Mantown.

I pointed to a table in the center of her store. So this is Mantown? I asked.

No, that was Mantown, she said, gesturing to a section of the store full of things like liquor bottle-shaped lights and candles made from beer bottles, called mandles.

I walked past it, I said.

You were in Mantown, man, she replied.

Mantown is just a small part of The Boulevard at South End, the store Branham runs with Angie Regan and Carmen Ellis. There s a lot more in the store for women: nail polish, earrings, purses, hats and other gifts you can buy from local vendors.

We do a lot of handmade jewelry and clothing, Branham said. There s kind of a walk-in, Etsy-type feel to it.

I came to check out the store because some filmmakers were there to check out the store. Trish Dalton and John Sears are being paid by Capital One to tell the story of small businesses. [Boulevard] is particularly unique because it s three friends who got together to open it, and what they do is support 40 local vendors in their store, Dalton said.

Dalton and Sears say while most small businesses are different, the owners that succeed are the same they stick with it even when people become irritable or when money gets tight. In an environment where, according to the Small Business Administration, many small businesses don t make it past five years, they like to see what is working. Really, it s like putting a megaphone up to small business owners and asking them what it s like being a small business owner right now, Dalton said.

So what s the story in South End? In the Space where Boulevard is now, a lot of businesses have come and gone. The struggle, according to Branham, has been about timing. The light rail has now been running through the neighborhood for years, and that s led to an apartment boom. More restaurants are there. In 2001, there were 30. Now, there are 50, according to Center City Partners. South End definitely has the influx of young professionals, said Branham. They ve got disposable income, and there s an artsy feel to it.

Now, there s more retail moving in to South End, 19 stores last year alone, according to Center City Partners. That s made the neighborhood into more of a retail destination, which means more people, which means more business. We picked this spot because of the local independent businesses here, said Branham. A talk with the owner at the Common Market up the street convinced Branham, Regan and Ellis that their boutique would work at the corner of South Tryon and Summit. He knew there was a need for a gift boutique, a one stop shop, Branham said. And I feel as they re successful, they send their customers to see us.

Two and a half years after the opening, Branham says she still understands what drew them to South End in the first place. We felt like we were part of a community, she said.

A community that, at Boulevard, includes Mantown.
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