After spending a delightful hour or so with the owners of Soul Center, Nick Rodriguez and Kari Wagner, I told Nick I had a new title for him: “Commun-trepeneur,” a rather clever blend of community and entrepreneur (in my mind, anyway).
He laughed and said, “I’m not really into titles,” then handed me his business card: “Community Advocate.” And that made so much more sense.
After three years in their old space, a big open warehouse off Country Club, they were excited to move to Downtown Mesa. “Mesa has always been home,” Nick says. “We both grew up in Mesa, it has a special place in our hearts. But downtown has completely transformed – and we wanted to be a part of that transformation.”
They’d identified Soul Center so much with the old space, but soon realized that Soul Center is the community inside. And “community” is what Soul Center is all about. “We wanted to provide a safe space for people in the community to use to express themselves, share, create. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the community.”
On February 22, 2020, Soul Center opened its doors at 130 W. Main Street…and then came the pandemic. With apologies to Nick, that’s where the “entrepreneur” kicked in. Nick and Kari shut down for 6 weeks and restructured, extending the retail portion of their business (as opposed to hosting a variety of events) and made that more of their business model. Adopting a “there’s nothing to lose” mentality, they cancelled three months’ worth of events and showcased their vendors. “We have a very open space here – people felt comfortable shopping here.”
The couple is quick to point out what they see works in Downtown Mesa: the collaboration amongst the businesses. “We’ve built more of a connection to people in general because of the Downtown Mesa community. Working together and inspiring each other, utilizing other’s strengths and resources.” Nick and Kari live by their vision: To have a place where people can come to support each other - community members, merchants, artisans, creators, practitioners - to make a community connection. “We show up and deliver what the community needs - our classes, our vendors, this space. That’s what keeps us passionate about Soul Center.”