By JT Moodee Lockman
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
Each Wednesday morning as commuters travel from Fells Point to work in Baltimore City, Nicholas Johnson with a few friends and local business owners take to the streets to hand out chocolates and sweets with smiles and positive messages.
Nicholas, known as Nick to family and friends, is the owner of the Fells Point furniture store, Su Casa, who spearheads the Hump Day greeting party. He said he asked himself a simple question: “How can we put a smile on people’s faces?”
The answer: “Wonderful Wednesday.”
The first Wonderful Wednesday fell around the same time as National Random Acts of Kindness Day, which is held every Feb. 17. After reading an article that random acts of kindness improve your health, Nick said he was even more motivated to make this a recurring event.
One of Nick’s favorite experiences during the Wednesday morning event was when one commuter rolled down his window and said, “I didn’t expect you guys to be here.”
“That’s what we’re going for,” said Nick. “We want to be unexpected. There is no bigger meaning, we’re just trying to have a positive impact on someone’s day.”
For Nick, this motivation to make people smile saturates his daily life as a small business owner.
Nick opened his first storefront, a head shop that sold jewelry and tapestries, in Fells Point with his father, Stephen Johnson. The Big Iguana, named after a van, that Nick had when he was growing up, started as a creative way to pay for his degree in government from Cornell University and quickly turned into a passion.
The name for the current Fells Point furniture store came much differently. Su Casa was named to memorialize Nick and his father’s travels around Mexico to Guatemala and Ecuador and finally to Fells Point.
Location is important to Nick, who brags about the 257-year-old Fells Point area, which is considered one of Baltimore’s oldest neighborhoods. Fells Point is known to have a small-town atmosphere with an array of independently owned restaurants and businesses, according to The Baltimore Sun. But statistics showed that Fells Point’s population has changed drastically since the 1700s. Today, The Demographic Statistical Atlas of the United States, reports that Fells Point is 73% White, 10% Hispanic, and 8% Black. In the 1700s, the breakdown was 84% White and 16% Black, who were mainly slaves, according to Five Maryland Census, 1700 to 1712: A Note on the Quality of the Quantities.
Even on days when he’s exhausted, Nick said he loves being in the store especially as he works toward his goal of building more custom-made furniture. But his favorite part of the job will always be interacting with customers.
According to The 2019 Maryland Business Climate Survey, local businesses reported that revenue and employment fell within the first two quarters last year. Half of the businesses surveyed also reported worker shortages during the second quarter. However, Nick currently has about 30 committed employees working for him.
“I have this motivation to make people happy and change the way they think of the retail world,” Nick said.
Brian Donnell, Su Casa’s general manager agreed.
“We aren’t a pushy company,” Brian said. “Our employees are empowered by the sales they make, because they are able to connect with customers and help them find what they need.”
Unlike many big-name furniture stores, Su Casa employees do not earn a commission for what they sell.
“I found that getting rid of commissions eliminated the competition for sales,” said Nick. “It also took the pressure off the sales associates as well as the customers and allowed us to pay our employees a higher flat rate.”
After living in Fells Point for 29 years, Nick said he has gotten to know a few other small business owners, but Wonderful Wednesdays has allowed him and his friends to branch out beyond the small community to other parts of Baltimore.
“Moving to other parts of the city will help me get to know other people who I hope to learn from,” said Nick.
Nick also is a board member for the Fells Point Main Street non-profit.
“One thing that people often don’t understand about small businesses is that we are the ones donating to your charities and showing up at your fundraisers; we are a big part of the community,” Nick said.
Brian and Nick also directly support and work with other small businesses in Fells Point.
“We keep in touch with a majority of the businesses in the area,” Brian said. “We have a commitment to partner with one another and stay local. We’ve even furnished a few of the bars on this street.”
Alex Midas said he supports Nick’s efforts.
“I grew up in the area, I used to wander around the store,” said Midas, a manager at Fells Point Tavern, just across the cobblestone street from Su Casa. “The owner has been in the area for 20 years and formed a friendship with Nick early on.”
As Nick continues to lead in Wonderful Wednesdays, he said his focus remains to consistently grow his brand and give back to the Baltimore community.