Go inside Motherland Gallery and step into a showplace of African-themed beauty and wonder.
Nowadays, you’re also stepping into a Whitehaven shop struggling to survive COVID-19’s ongoing impact.
The once-thriving business at the old Mall of Memphis just off Interstate 240 and Perkins Road now languishes in the Whitehaven Plaza Shopping Center on Elvis Presley Boulevard.
“We had three locations inside the Mall of Memphis at one time,” said Motherland Gallery owner Stanley Taylor. “There were two stores and one booth sitting outside in the hallway. Traffic was great. Business was great. But this past year has been a disaster.”
Enter the pandemic and what now is the latest associated challenge – local Health Directive No. 16, which is set to take effect Saturday and last until Jan. 22. Issued Monday (Dec. 21), the new directive will not completely close restaurants nor will it close nonessential retailers, as some businesses feared.
The directive allows retailers to remain open at 50 percent capacity. Taylor got word last Saturday (Dec. 19) that a new health order was imminent. Foot traffic already had slowed to almost nothing for days at a time, but Taylor, along with his wife and co-owner Maxine Taylor had hoped to recover during the year-end holiday season.
“This time of year is usually very good for us,” said Maxine Taylor. “People are buying Christmas gifts and spending lots of money Christmas shopping. But this year has been different. We’ve never seen a time like this. It’s never been this bad.”
After 22 years as a premiere supplier of African art and exotic collectibles in Memphis, Motherland Gallery like so many other African-American enterprises across the country and around the globe, must find a way to muddle through a multiweek shut-down, which will last into the new year.
An astronomical surge in cases following Thanksgiving holiday weekend has created a crisis for local hospitals struggling to keep up with the demand for more and more COVID-19 beds.
“It’s not that we don’t understand that some things must be done,” said Stanley Taylor. “But businesses like ours have had a time trying to keep businesses in our community open.”
The Shelby County Health Department reported 778 new COVID-19 cases Monday (Dec. 21) and eight new COVID-19 deaths, bringing the number of virus-related deaths to 818. The county has recorded a total of 61,429 cases of COVID-19 this year, according to the Health Department.
An already uncontrolled community spread was exacerbated by an explosion of new cases and higher death tolls post-Thanksgiving.
“This store started out as a vision in 1998 of presenting the richness of our African culture here at home,” said Stanley Taylor. “My wife and I traveled to really amazing places across the African continent – Kenya, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Ghana, among them. There have been so many physical deaths. We hope this is not the death of a dream.”
Shopping at the Motherland Gallery is no ordinary trip to a store. The Taylors regal their patrons with countless stories of their travels through traditional African villages and how they procured the hand-carved, original pieces of wood statues, exquisite furniture, and other novel artifacts – hundreds of them.
“My wife, Maxine, was crowned an African princess in one of the villages,” said Taylor. “That was quite an experience. There was a beautiful, crowning ceremony and lots of dancing and entertainment. It’s something we will never forget. African people are so generous.”
Authentic African clothing and uniquely designed costume jewelry have been extremely popular among women throughout the life of the store. Natural shea butter, black soap, and scented oils have also been popular.
The Motherland Gallery is depending on its web store to carry the business through the closure.
To view some of the shop’s most prized pieces, visit: www.motherlandgallery.com.
“We’ve been through storms like this before,” said Stanley Taylor. “With some help from above, we’ll get through this, too.”