From Kenya to Brookings

John Kubal/Register: Simon Nguru, who owns and operates 254 Gift Shop in downtown Brookings, shows off some of the store’s selection of African-style clothing and decorative items. His wife, Cecilia, and his mother, Magdalene, help run the shop, which had its opening on Juneteenth.

Local entrepreneur operates taxi service, now sells African clothes and gifts

BROOKINGS – Need a taxi to take you from Brookings to the Sioux Falls Regional Airport? 

Dial 605-690-8173. You’ll reach Simon Nguru, owner, manager and operator of Brookings Taxi. That phone number will also connect you with the owner of 254 Gift Shop at 224 Main Ave. in downtown Brookings. Again, that’s Nguru: he operates the newly opened shop with his wife Cecilia and his mother Magdalene.

The “254” is the international calling code for Kenya, the native country of Simon, his wife and his wife’s mother. Simon and Cecilia have two daughters, Wisdom, 7, and Kristel, 1, both born in Brookings.

“All the theme is Africa,” Simon explained of the new shop. It had its grand opening on Juneteenth. It features wall décor, wood and soft stone carvings of African animals, beaded jewelry, Ankara clothes, woven handbags, sandals, engraved gifts and all kinds of clothing, for men, women and children

“People like colorful stuff, colorful dresses and colorful clothes,” he added. “When they come in here, they’ll find colorful scarves, handbags.”

Fans of “The Lion King” will recognize and be familiar with the Swahili phrase “hakuna matata,” which translates to “no worries.” Customers can find it embossed on some of the clothing at 254.

In addition to their downtown-Brookings store, the Ngurus are exploring other venues to show and sell their wares.

Cecilia said that the booth they set up outside Pioneer Park during the recent Brookings Summer Arts Festival had good sales and they’ll soon be going to a craft show in Marshall, Missouri. 

Soon, Simon will be traveling to Kenya buy more African merchandise and arrange for continuing shipments of inventory for their shop. One item he’ll be getting is hoodies. “With fall, it will be a little bit cold,” he said.

“I figured we have a lot of very good stores here in town, but we do not have someplace to introduce something new,” he explained of his decision to open 254. “The town is growing, and everybody is coming from everywhere.

“My goal is to get all kinds of customers, people from here and from international (places), people who come here to stay. I want people to feel like they are at home,” he said.

You call, we haul

Before he brought his family and settled them here, Simon had his own circuitous journey to Brookings. He was born and raised in Kenya, Africa, and came to New York in October 2009. He worked in a dry cleaning company for a couple years. In 2011, he moved to Minneapolis and attended North Hennipen Community and Technical College in Brooklyn Park, where he earned an associate’s degree in criminal justice and law enforcement. He also held down a manufacturing job. Meanwhile, he had friends at South Dakota State University.

“We had grown up together in Kenya,” Simon explained. “I came to visit, and I liked the place. That’s why I decided to move here (in 2014).” He became a United States citizen in 2015. From 2014 to 2019, he worked for three different industrial companies in Brookings. 

The 254 Gift Shop is Simon’s second entrepreneurial venture in Brookings. His first began in 2019 when he purchased Yata Taxi service, now simply called Brookings Taxi.

“We haul a lot of people, and we like doing that,” he said. His taxi serves Arlington, Sioux Falls (including the airport), Aurora, Brookings, Volga and Watertown. That’s the long haul.

“The towns that don’t have a taxi, they call us,” he said. “We’ve gone two hours out of our way to take somebody.”

“We’ll go anywhere,” he added, laughing. “We’ve gone to Vermillion to get somebody to take them to the airport, because they don’t have a way of getting there.

“And the nightlife, even during the day, helping stranded people, the taxi is a big help. You call, we haul,” Nguru said. Laughing, he added, “I like to say, ‘You pay, we go.’”

Contact John Kubal at [email protected]

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