By Megan Douress Photography by JPG Photo & Video (jpgphotography.com)
The following women participated in this article: Tara Sulimay Acosta (Sulimay’s Studio on Main) Arielle Ashford (Unity Yoga) Susan Beard (Susan Beard Design Co) Lynda Berdin (Ilumine’ Gallery) Christa Campbell (Merge Dance Studio) Winnie Clowry (Winnie’s Manayunk) Teresa Davis (Vamp Boutique) Brandy Deieso (The Little Apple) Mary Dougherty (Nicole Miller) Christine Ertz (Keller Williams) Sasha Fedunchak (Vacay Beauty) Jessica Golden (Yoga on Main) Meredith Gornick (Latitudes & Longitudes) Melissa Gregory (Bourbon Blue) Laura Anne Lamprou (LILA) Lisa Lamprou (LILA) Shaw Lewis (Expect Lace) Jane Lipton (One Nickel Coworking) Joan Lutzow (Winnie’s Manayunk) Tanya Malinovska (Remix on Main) Patti Martelli (Martelli’s Men’s Grooming Salon) Ljupka Neducsin (Remix on Main) Anna Purcell (Threads) Juliet Sabella (The Wall Fitness Studio/Liberty & Lace Bridal) Heather Slawek (Awakenings Pole Fitness) Stephanie Stranieri (Allstate Insurance)
Women are making waves across the globe in 2020. Whether it’s because they’re winning championships, writing influential novels and songs, or running for office, they have represented a much needed change in modern history. This year, we’re celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment. The City of Philadelphia has even changed their official slogan to “The City of Sisterly Love” to mark the occasion. Locally, women have represented a significant portion of the Manayunk business community since the Manayunk Development Corporation’s founding in the mid-80s. To celebrate the impact they’ve made on our district, we sat down with a few of Manayunk’s leading female entrepreneurs in honor of Women’s History Month.
What was your first job in your industry? Melissa: My family owned restaurants when I was growing up, so my first job in this industry was doing dishes at eight-years-old. Teresa: When I was 18, I worked in a clothing store on South Street. Tara: I started in my dad’s barbershop. Winnie: My first job in the industry was over 40 years ago. I was a waitress at a restaurant called The Yorktown Inn in Elkins Park. I lied about my age — you had to be 18 to serve alcohol and I was 16. So, I worked around all these 40-something-year-olds that were very “worldly” and I was in my junior year of high school. I never spoke much because I was afraid they would discover my true age and I would lose my job. A few years later, my father bought an Irish pub while I was in college. When I came home from college, I began working for him for many years. That’s where I fell in love with the industry. Stephanie: I was a title clerk at an auto tag agency. When I turned 18, they asked me to get my insurance license and I never went back. Christa: After graduating from college with a BA in Dance, I auditioned for and got a job dancing with Dance Kaleidoscope in Indianapolis, IN. I moved there to dance with them full-time. Susan: My first job was in TV. I was an associate producer. After that, I just decided to try and open my own studio in Manayunk. Brandy: I actually worked at Smith Brothers on Main Street. I think I was a senior in high school. That was my first job in retail in Manayunk!
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur? When did you come to the realization? Meredith: I knew that at some point in my life, I would hopefully end up being my own boss. I come from a long line of family that are entrepreneurs, from men’s clothing and tailoring, to a butcher. Julie: Honestly, when I was five-years-old. I would go to my grandmother’s store – she had a clothing store – and I would go there and play with the cash register. I loved that people would give her money for the clothing she was selling and it just stuck with me. I would have my sister pay me to paint her nails and that’s when I realized I would be my own boss some day! Jane: I became an entrepreneur when I was nine-years-old. When I was down the shore, I wanted a new bicycle. It was $99, which was a fortune a long time ago. I begged my grandfather for the money and he wouldn’t give it to me, but he showed up at the shore with a box of blow-up head cushions and he said, “Go out and sell these for 50 cents and let me know when you have enough for the bike.” I think I got to about $30 and he said, “Great job – go get the bike.” Lynda: In many ways, I’ve been an entrepreneur for as long as I can remember. When I was nine-years-old and living in Lapu-Lapu (a small town outside of Cebu in the Philippines), I convinced my mother to buy me some fruits. Some of these I arranged nicely in a big, flat basket and the others I used to make some juices that I sold to the basketball players who practiced just outside the gate in front of our home. Most of those guys liked flirting with my older sister and cousins. So basically, they’d buy my stuff just so they could have an excuse to come inside the gate and talk to them. I guess I saw that as a selling opportunity! Christa: I did not! Only after many years of dancing and teaching for others did I realize that I wanted to open my own studio and felt that I could bring a unique approach to it. Susan: Yes, I always knew. I was hired at a big company and on my first day I said to myself, “If I can make them money, I can make it on my own!” Christine: I got tired of making money for other people and making other people happy. That’s when I decided I wanted to work for myself. I wanted to motivate myself. I wanted to get out of it what I put into it. Laura Anne: I think for me, it was working my first job out of college and realizing that it didn’t make me happy. There was no purpose in what I was doing because I wanted to do something that made me truly happy and I felt like I couldn’t do that unless I was doing something for myself. Being a female entrepreneur definitely has its challenges! What are some of those challenges and what motivates you to keep going? Sasha: Wow, where do I start!? The pressure of everything falling on you and being solely responsible to keep things going, the never-ending workdays, the loneliness from spending so much time working on and in the business, and making little time for “fun.” These are all challenges I’ve experienced over the last year. However, the thing that keeps me going is the community I have built of clients and other entrepreneurs. Mary: The challenges have been many. I’m motivated by my family, my friends, and the community our business serves as well as the people that have benefitted from our success, from charities to prior employees, to our customers. Shaw: The sacrifices – not having time to see my friends and family, all the weight I gained, all the designer clothes I’ve sowed! But mainly time away from friends and family. It’s been a rough year but it’ll pay off. Heather: I’m a single mom – I have two teenage daughters. Juggling their schedules, my schedule, my staff’s schedule, squeezing in some time for myself somewhere – the time management thing and making sure there’s some kind of balance. It is a priority and you have to figure it out or else you have nothing to give and your business will reflect that. Anna: It’s really owning the fact that you’re the only one that’s responsible for your business. If something’s not done, it’s on you. That’s a challenging thing to realize – only you are going to get your business where you want it to be and own that. It’s also a very rewarding feeling.
Do you have any mentors that have helped you along the way? How did they help you? Meredith: My mom is my number one mentor. She comes with me for all the shows and gives me her opinion on things I’m looking to bring into the store. Also, there are a lot of women on Main Street who are mentors to me in their own ways, whether they realize it or not. They help me bounce ideas off of them to see if I should do something out of my comfort zone and bring it into the store. Lynda: My mother. She was an incredible businesswoman, even though she never had a formal education. While I went to and graduated from the University of Phoenix with a degree in business administration, I can still say that a lot of the things I’ve learned in the day-to-day operation of a business and the reality of owning and running your own business came from my mother. I’ve attributed my business success to her guidance.
Stephanie: My dad is an entrepreneur so he is my original mentor. He owns a business here and my sister owns a business here. Also, my boss from when I worked at Nationwide before I went to Allstate. It’s a very male-dominated industry and she really taught me something so valuable — how to interact with men in a professional setting, how to have your voice be heard. I wouldn’t be able to live my life without her. She taught me so much about building female relationships and how important they are. Winnie: I am one of those people that have always learned from everyone along the way! In addition, I am fortunate to own a business in a town on a street that I am surrounded by many great men and one super great female restaurateur. How fortunate to be able to pick up your phone and text a neighbor for a quick question on issues and struggles we come across weekly. One day, I was in the prep kitchen and there was no skilled chef in the house at the time. I had an emergency need for salmon fillets. I ran out my back door and ran in the front door of Bourbon Blue and asked Brendan McGrew if he would help me. Brendan walked right into my prep kitchen and filleted me a side of salmon. That’s what you call, “a good neighbor!” Brandy: When I first moved onto the street, I was closer neighbors to Norma from Gary Mann Jewelers and was actually really helpful to me. She was really encouraging me to take advantage of a lot of the programs that were offered to us as small business owners. Because of her, I did the Storefront Improvement Grant to take advantage of money that is out there instead of using my own. That’s something I would’ve never known about. Arielle: Julie was great! She gave us the lay of the land, the rundown, and introduced us to everyone. Brandy was also great. We had a wonderful welcome into a new community and have been able to talk to the different owners about what’s going on, especially Julie, when it comes to fitness. On a separate note, I have a national Facebook group where we talk about trends that are going on, so we try to make sure we’re up on those trends. Julie: I haven’t had any mentors in business but I have made it my goal to welcome all new businesses to Manayunk. I like to share ideas and kind of hold their hand a little bit, especially my fellow fitness people. We’re a small but very strong group. We go in and say, “Hi,” to the new businesses because we’ve all been there before. I remember what it was like being the new person in town and wish I had that kind of welcome when I first opened. I think it helps establish relationships and helps establish future partnerships! Melissa: I’ve worked in Manayunk for 20 years at two different places and when I came to Manayunk, it was more, “How do I make my piece of the pie bigger?” and now it’s evolved into, “How do we make a bigger pie so everyone can have a slice?” We literally have something in our office that says, “Unity and Community.” We always try to do whatever we can to support anyone on Main Street. I really like that – we’re doing our job!
Why did you decide to open your small business in Manayunk? Ljupka: Manayunk, besides being the perfect location being 10 minutes from the city and 10 minutes from the Main Line, we are also continuing the family legacy. It’s important for my kids to know that Manayunk runs in our blood. Jessica: Yoga on Main has been in the community for 28 years. It’s a place for community, to come together, and to not just practice yoga but support each other in spirituality, growth, and personal development. I was already a part of that community so when the previous owner wanted to move on, it was a chance for me to step into a small business of entrepreneurship – not just for me because I work full-time – but to keep this community going. I consider myself the shepherdess. I keep it going to keep the sense of community going. I moved here 12 years ago and I just love it. It was the perfect opportunity at the right time. Tara: I really wasn’t looking to open another business but someone I knew who already worked on Main Street really hyped it up and said how wonderful it is. She got me to go in and do it! If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t be here. Julie: There was a need for it and no one else had done it yet. I used to take spin classes at the gym but the times were so challenging for someone who had to be at work by 7:30 a.m. I felt very strongly that if I wanted a 5:00 a.m. class time, there had to be others that did, too!
In what ways has the Manayunk business community – specifically those owned by women — supported you over the years? Melissa: I love nights when I see Christine and her husband come in for dinner. I love seeing Brandy, Lisa, Laura Anne, Jane, Julie, Meredith – everyone comes in for brunch. That’s one of my favorite parts, when you see other business owners come in and dine at your place. Christine: And when they recognize you and you’re greeted with a hug every time! Heather: This lady right here, who owns Vamp! We go shopping there, my teenage daughters and I. She also refers people to the studio. So, it’s great to have other female entrepreneurs supporting each other. Tara: I have to give Teresa her credit because when I wanted to do a fashion show, I went to her and said, “Hey, want to do this thing?” and she was like, “OK, let’s do this!” Shaw: All of the retail ladies have talked me off the edge a few times, so I appreciate you! It’s a lot when you open a business by yourself and you think you can do everything by yourself. You have these meltdowns and you can look at someone and they can tell you’re having a meltdown! I think a lot of these women have been a huge support system to me. Christa: When I first opened back in 2012, many of the other local business owners reached out and were very supportive and welcoming. They have continued to reach out to collaborate over the years and have always been helpful in offering advice or wisdom. I also have had many fellow business owners either bring their children here to dance, dance here themselves, or both! Patti: I have received an outpouring of support from the business owners on Main Street. Some of them are already clients — from coming over to introduce themselves, to reaching out to remind me they are here for questions, concerns, or even just to talk. Some have even gone as far as to send clients they know in to get the Martelli’s hair experience, or they’ll bring their children in.
How do you achieve work-life balance? Heather: I think it’s important to create boundaries. Even though we’re entrepreneurs and our businesses are extremely important, you have to create boundaries. You have to decide that you’re only going to take phone calls up until a certain time. If I have people calling me at six o’clock in the morning, I just have to say to myself, “I’m not open yet – they can leave a message!” Create those definitive boundaries between your personal life and your business. Christa: That is something I am continually trying to achieve. I just had my second child in November so how that balance looks changes every day right now! I am lucky enough to be able to be home with my children during the day as I work mostly nights. The bulk of my work actually gets done after they are asleep for the night. Meredith: That was a hard one at the beginning of owning a business. I had to get comfortable with being able to leave the store for a day. My friends and family learned that they had to give me important dates way in advance to make sure I was able to make it. Having my tram of ladies who work for me makes it easy for me to be able to leave my “baby” in good hands. I met my husband on Main Street, which was very convenient. We’re able to spend time together when he helps me out in the store! Laura Anne: Lisa and I are sisters, and we own a business together. We see a lot of each other, and more so for me then for her because she has a family and a baby, I always say we should do this and we should do that. But by 11 o’clock at night, I have to recognize that every interaction — as business partners and siblings — the store dominates the conversation. But it’s hard being a small business because even when you’re not there, you’re there. Lisa: Let’s be honest, there really isn’t a work-life balance. I do have a kid and I do have a husband, but when you do what you love, you don’t have to balance it because LILA is life. My kid is in the store and I take meetings in my business. It is what it is and if you love what you do, at least for me, I don’t see it as a balance.
What is one thing you wish you had known when you first opened your business? Susan: I wish I bought a building on Main Street 28 years ago — always listen to your mother! Teresa: I wish I would’ve known to network more when I first opened. The first couple years, I didn’t network as much as I should have. Since I’ve been doing it more in the last five years or so, it’s really helped my business a lot. Anna: I wish I would’ve known to always stick to my gut feeling and know that people will make suggestions but it is just that – a suggestion. I don’t always have to say, “Yes” to people. I think that’s something I’ve really grown into and now I only make the decisions that are going to be best for my business. I go with my gut more and I’m less of a people pleaser. Every day, I learn something new. It’s been a four-year crash course in a MBA. Give yourself grace to make mistakes. Jane: I wish that I had taken more time to learn standard best practices for business. I didn’t know taxes, how to write a business plan, how to manage my inventory and not get overwhelmed with extra inventory.
The single thing – the business plan – is a gamechanger. I’m forced to look over my business once a year from every angle. I wish I would’ve known to do that a long time ago because it makes a big difference. Laura Anne: I wish I knew what our customers wanted when we first opened. I thought we were catering to the New York powerful woman. When we first opened, we brought in two collections that were such a miss – nothing sold! I was like, “If we continue down this path, we’re going to have to close.” We were so off. We kind of got to know the neighborhood better and got a better feel for what resonated with Philadelphia. There was a serious learning curve and now it’s so much easier. We didn’t know when to bring in collections, when to do the buying, how to do the accounting – we started from zero. It’s amazing to look back and see how far we’ve come and how much the business has matured over the years. Mary: Everything works out if you stay focused, follow your instincts, treat people with respect, and surround yourself with great people, friends, and family! Sasha: I knew this at the time, and still believe it, but on many days it was hard: treating the customer with the utmost reverence and respect makes a huge difference. Even though we are entrepreneurs or store owners, we’re also human and we have bad days. My biggest regrets in my business is when those handful of bad days impacted my ability to deliver exceptional customer service. I’ve definitely learned how to be more diplomatic, calm, and collected — even on tough days — to make sure my customers are beyond pleased with every interaction they have with me in the store. Julie: That my studio members would become like family. I am so incredibly grateful for every single person that comes through the doors every day. It’s emotional, in a way. I’ve gotten to share so many wonderful memories as well as help support those who need a shoulder to cry on — and vice versa! I’ve had so many days where I just had to put on a smile and my clients just knew something was off and wanted to help me feel better.
What’s your biggest piece of advice for female entrepreneurs who are hoping to open their own small business in Manayunk? Sasha: Make connections quickly — everyone is so willing to help one another. Don’t try to do it all on your own. Instead, ask for help and be willing to accept it! Arielle: Step one, talk to Brandy. Step two, get yourself a good partner. I’m definitely more of the creative one and Robert is more of the backend person. If you have both, that’s awesome. Know where your blindspots or your weaknesses are and fill in those blanks with a partner that will compliment you. Anna: I think it’s really good to know your strong spots and know to ask for help with your weak spots. Ask others for their opinions but take them with a grain of salt. Brandy: Join the Manayunk Development Corporation. Really, it is valuable. You may ask, “Why am I spending money and what am I getting for it?” but it really does put you in the know, it gets you on social media, you’re the first ones to know events and you’re invited to participate. I think we’re opening it up to other surrounding businesses off of Main Street because we realize that a rising tide floats all boats — we want everyone to participate. It helps to be a part of a smaller community and maybe have a say in what happens here. Mary: Be passionate, be kind not only to others but yourself, and surround yourself with people who will invest in your success.
What do you think the future holds for women-owned and operated small businesses in Manayunk? Heather: We’re in 2020 and we’re heading into the age of Aquarius, which is all about female empowerment. The stars are aligning and we’re going to take over the world! I know my business in particular is about female empowerment but the power of women is in full force starting this year and into next. I see a stronger representation of women in business, especially in Manayunk. Patti: I feel like Manayunk is growing as a whole. From the new and established businesses to the new and newly renovated housing in the area, we are going to see big changes for this new decade in Manayunk — a town that I’m proud to have been born and raised in! Christa: I think the number of women-owned businesses will continue to grow here in Manayunk and that those women will continue to be involved in the community and help to shape it moving forward. Christine: The better we all do, the better the individuals do. We have to support each other. Mary: There is no limit to what they can achieve! Melissa: If we all stick together like this, the sky’s the limit.