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Program aims to diversify malls, help business owners of color

The Alderwood Mall and Westlake Center are among the malls offering assistance to underrepresented entrepreneurs.

LYNNWOOD, Wash. — Davis Vincent describes his business as a moving train. 

"Constantly running. Constantly running," he said. 

Vincent is the engine of that train. He opened his Lynnwood donut shop because he found a hole in the market.

"I would go to these standard places and I'm not getting any of the love, any of the energy, or the flavors," he said.

Zuri's Donuts is named after his daughter. He runs the business all by himself.

It's a daunting task for anybody, but one that's even more difficult for a person of color.

Vincent would like to expand his bakery but could use a hand.

"People need the possibility of expansion -- with help. Otherwise, it's that standard way that we don't know, whether it's getting finances or getting financial help and having guidance there," said the Navy veteran who learned to bake in his mother's kitchen.

According to a McKinsey study, 4% of Black-owned businesses survive past the start-up phase even though 20% of Black Americans start businesses. 

Now a program at malls in Washington and across the country aims to change that. The Partner to Empower program offers free business planning, networking opportunities, funding and workshops to BIPOC-owned businesses ready to grow.

The program is run by Brookfield Properties which owns more than 130 shopping centers across the nation, including the Alderwood Mall in Lynnwood, Westlake Center in Seattle and the Spokane Valley Mall.

The hope is to see more diversity inside malls' walls.

"We want to provide diverse offerings for our customers, and for people to go into shopping centers and see an entrepreneur who looks like them," said Michelle Isabell, vice president of business development for Brookfield. "With this program, we are working with individuals who aren't necessarily five or ten years into running a business, but who are ready to open a store." 

Vincent believes they are the ingredients for a more inclusive American shopping center -- and the recipe for a sweeter future for Zuri.

"To have someone say, 'This is who we are, what we represent and we're here to help you,' that's that hand people need."

The deadline for applications is March 24.

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