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‘Best Day’ finds Duluth retailer giving back

Ava Maki applies eye makeup to Felicia Fanaselle. Steve Kuchera / kuchera@duluthnews.com1 / 4
WITC students provide makeovers to several of the women nominated by Community Action Duluth. Steve Kuchera / kuchera@duluthnews.com2 / 4
Linda Brazier watches as she receives a makeover. Steve Kuchera / kuchera@duluthnews.com3 / 4
WITC students (standing, from left) Ava Maki, Faustina Lehto and Angel Scherkenbach make up Felicia Fanaselle, Mercedes Sheard and Helen Davis at Maurices on Thursday. The three women were among 10 nominated by Community Action Duluth to receive a shopping trip and makeovers. Steve Kuchera / kuchera@duluthnews.com4 / 4

For the past five years in a row, Maurices corporate headquarters in downtown Duluth stops what it's doing and turns its undivided attention to the community in which the national women's clothing retailer grew up.

They call it "Our Best Day Ever" and, as if they couldn't resist the runner-up from marketing, describe the activities therein as the company's "Grand Give."

But it's the day's actions which matter most, and on Wednesday, teams from Maurices fanned out across the city to perform any number of charitable and community-oriented acts.

"It's really great to step out of our own headspace of the day-to-day and recognize the community we live in," said associate Erika Monette, a visual merchandiser.

Among the day's activities locally:

• Serving Italian-style lunch at the Damiano Center;

• Cleaning out invasive species from Hartley Park;

• Planting trees in the Woodland and Congdon neighborhoods;

• Mulching and shrub removal at Enger and Lake Place parks;

• Adopting Lowell Music Magnet School to provide classroom supplies, materials and some extra funds;

• Assembling care packages with Blue Star Mothers of America for service people overseas;

• A start-to-finish redecoration of child care space at Community Action Duluth in Lincoln Park.

Nationwide, Maurices announced its stores raised more than $100,000 for Adopt A Classroom efforts in its retail communities, and associates at the New York City design office took the day to spend with neighborhood children programs.

"Isn't this terrific?" said CEO George Goldfarb in a Duluth headquarters conference room, where 10 women nominated by Community Action Duluth were receiving styles and makeovers after an earlier shopping spree at the Maurices retail store in the Miller Hill Mall.

Mercedes Sheard lost her job of five years when the Kmart store in West Duluth closed earlier this month.

"But I got myself a government job," she said excitedly, explaining how she starts work next month as a front desk information specialist at the St. Louis County government center on West Second Street.

Sheard looked peaceful as a student stylist from Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College applied gold eyeshadow to Sheard's closed eyelids.

"I had a horrible day yesterday," said Linda Brazier, who was overcome with emotion by the experience, a tear rolling down her radiant cheek. "Nothing is free except a prayer and I feel like I had two prayers answered today."

Brazier admitted she's struggling to pay rent and that job coaches with Community Action are working to help reconnect her with her former career in social work. The $50 worth of shopping, with 50 percent off, and subsequent makeover put her in a better place.

"You come in here and you feel prettier," she said. "You feel like life is going to work out well."

Helen Davis is the Family Freedom Center's outreach liaison, bringing African American families together for community activities in Lincoln Park. She left the style and makeover with her hair in rows and a few new pairs of pants and shorts.

"This is a blessing," she said. "It's nice to be pampered. You don't get that opportunity very often."

As he surveyed the scene, Goldfarb said he appreciated the company providing people with an unique experience.

"It's all about giving back," said Goldfarb, the company's homegrown top executive known for his silver pompadour. "It's an amazing experience for the associates, too."

Indeed. It was field experience manager Shannon O'Hern's team that was put in charge of the shopping and makeovers. The associates on her team each adopted a shopper and behaved as personal stylists would.

"We got to know them and learned they were all giving back to the community through non-profits and other ways," O'Hern said. "These women do so much for their neighborhoods. They deserve to be pampered. But it's as much fun for us as for them."

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