Springfield nonprofit opens new business enterprise center highlighting those with Down syndrome

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – The Down Syndrome Group of the Ozarks has established a business area on Commercial Street for individuals with the genetic disorder.

“About two years ago, we started dreaming of some kind of enterprise center,” says DSGO Executive Director Scott Kirby, “some kind of way to not only engage employers but build on that even further into entrepreneurship, social skills and professional development for our adults with Down syndrome. We’ve now raised the funds to take this leap of faith.”

“Upside Down Mercantile” aims to challenge misconceptions about the capabilities of individuals with Down syndrome.

“We want to turn that way of thinking upside down,” Kirby says. “Let’s not focus on what they can’t do; let’s try to show what they are capable of and can do. That’s what we are trying to do here.”

DSGO was established in 2006 when a group of mothers joined forces to discuss providing proper and loving care for children with Down syndrome. The nonprofit offers life groups, as well as various resources and care baskets.

At Upside Down Mercantile certain entrepreneurs produce their own products, while others choose to buy wholesale and rebrand, just as other local shops. The store currently offers seven brands from various vendors, including beaded necklaces and bracelets, journaling tools, hand soap, beard oil, hair gel, pet toys and treats, hats, bow ties, scarves, socks, Jesus gear and coffee.

“We have the option for them to make this as big or small as they want it to be. If they want to just create their products and show up once a month and replenish those products, that is totally fine. We’ve had them come to different events here at the store. The ultimate goal is for them to be on a rotating schedule and be in the store greeting customers – eventually, when we have online orders available, even (helping) shipping those orders out.”

Kirby tells The Heartlander there’s a lot of potential for expansion, and that the group has plans to recruit workers with Down syndrome in coming years. An online shopping experience is being developed and will launch by the first of the new year.

The initial public response has been positive. Ever since the grand opening of Upside Down Mercantile a week ago, people have been flocking to the store.

“We have seen an overwhelmingly positive response. It’s been incredible. People are showing up supporting our kiddos, supporting the brands. We’ve prided ourselves in really working with the families to develop legitimate brands. These aren’t just some craft projects or art projects we are doing. We want to be a competitor in the market. We work with them on some solid branding concepts that directly link the individual with Down syndrome.”

Visit the Upside Down Mercantile website to sign up for its newsletter and stay updated.

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