Bluechip: Vital To Revitalization

By Christine Sherk The Register-Guard, Eugene, Ore.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) In One Oregan community, it is the Women who are crushing it in business. Everywhere you turn, another women-owned business is popping up and the best part is that they have each other's backs.

Springfield

All of them have it: a twinkle in their eyes.

The many women who own businesses in downtown Springfield are doing what they love and working where they want, and so why not sparkle?

Call it buzz. Energy. Commitment. Community.

These women are all-in, and for them, Springfield is the place to be.

Some of the businesses have been here for a while, such as Pauline Hauder's Vino and Vango for 10 years, or Mary Jo Moloney's Our Sewing Room for six years. Other businesses are so new to the town, the proverbial paint is still drying on the walls: Jenna Fribley and Kelsey Buzzell's Campfire Collaborative, and Erin Gilfillan's Main Street Market.

Stand on any street corner from Mill Street east to Eighth Street, and even farther to the Paramount Center, or go north or south a few blocks, and you're bound to see this thriving presence in Springfield. There are so many of them, we can only attempt to present a snapshot.

"It's remarkable," says Vonnie Mikkelsen, the president and CEO of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce. "By nature, women are incredible entrepreneurs, and they are visionary and know how to get things done. And all of those things are lining up with what's happening in downtown Springfield. So they feel at home. The women are finding their place here in all the right ways."

Celeste Watch Company Celeste Wong, for one, is finding her place making high-precision artisan watches.

"I'm actually the only women-owned and -operated watch company in the U.S. I tell people that's why the watches look different, if you put a woman in charge," Wong says with a laugh.

Inside her shop, you can see Wong's unique horology at work. Her watches are equipped with Swiss quartz movement, handcrafted dials, scratch-proof sapphire crystal faces, and hand-sewn, vegetable-tanned leather bands.

Wong's mixed-media dials really stand out. Using brass, or mother of pearl, or wood, or whatever high-quality material catches her eye, she fashions beautiful works of art. A former engineer, Wong learned how to make watches by taking them apart and reconstructing, every cog and wheel.

Her watch collections read like pages from a natural history book: Animals, Under the Sea, Stars and Skies. But she doesn't forget the gearheads; she has a Vehicles collection, too.

"One of the main motivators to have this storefront is not only for sales, but also to service the watches that are out there," says Wong, a Springfield resident. "The way I see it is that I'm starting a brand, and I want to know exactly how well these watches are doing for everyone who buys them."

The shops around her have filled in since she opened two and a half years ago -- in an area branded collectively as "The Block," between Third and Fourth streets -- and she feels a real camaraderie from her neighbors. "It feels good down here. And it just keeps getting better. I feel completely that I am in the right place at the right time."

Campfire Collaborative Just next door to Wong's shop are Jenna Fribley and Kelsey Buzzell, co-owners of Campfire Collaborative. The business evolved out of Fribley's existing business, Envelope Design, and Buzzell came on when Fribley wanted to rebrand and do something different, something more collaborative.

Both are Springfield residents and both wanted to be a part of what's happening in downtown Springfield.

"We knew there was some development happening down here," says Buzzell, the designer. "We also noticed a lack of architecture firms in Springfield. There are primarily Eugene-based firms. So we thought it was an opportunity to come down here and help with revitalization."

About their office space, Fribley admits, "It was a building I would sit in Plank Town and stare at. I longed for it. I would think: Someday I'm going to figure that out."

In November, they moved in. In addition to their architecture and design offices, the space also serves as a design resource center stocked with material samples and an inspiration library of books and magazines about design, both open to the public during set hours.

"We realized we needed to be good stewards of this storefront. It can't just be this quiet little dead spot in this area that's trying to be lively and revitalize," says Fribley, the architect.

They also came up with the idea for a formal creative district, now officially called the Booth Kelly Makers District, inspired by the Booth Kelly Mill just off Fifth Street to the south.

"We like to think that Springfield was founded on the ideas of making and crafts. So using that as a namesake felt right," Fribley says.

This dynamic duo has more ideas, too, imagining a variety of businesses -- not only restaurants -- extending beyond the core downtown blocks.

Fribley also would like to see a little more building density along Main Street. She loves to pore over historic photos of downtown Springfield, so she knows there used to be taller buildings, even a hotel in the early 1900s, an idea that Springfield developer David Loveall hopes to build into a reality again.

"The downtown has a lot of potential to be really vibrant," Fribley says.

Main Street Market Open since May, Main Street Market is one of several new businesses filling the surrounding community's needs: a mini grocery store stocked with local and fresh products.

Owner Erin Gilfillan, who already owns the Friendly Street Market in Eugene, was not looking to open a second shop, but when she caught wind of an open space between the Washburne Cafe and Bartolotti's Pizza Bistro in Springfield, she took a look and fell in love.

"This was a big open slate. It had these old vinyl floors that we removed and then we refinished this beautiful, original flooring," says Gifillan, a Philadelphia native who fondly recalls her hometown's compact street-corner markets. "I really wanted a space where we could open the doors and put out some fresh produce."

Scan the aisles, and there are so many locally made products it's like a Who's Who of eats and drinks: Elegant Elephant Baking Co., Lola's Fruit Shrubs, Knee Deep Cattle Company, Nancy's Yogurt, Deck Family Farm, Sweet Creek Foods, Hummingbird Wholesale -- the list is long.

Produce manager Molly Cheek delights in ordering locally from smaller farms such as Lost Creek Farms, not only to support local businesses, but also "because it's way fresher. It's usually picked that day and delivered."

Main Street Market hosted its official ribbon-cutting ceremony on Aug. 22.

"The community definitely wanted the market," Gilfillan says. "They've been so excited about it. People are really committed to keeping it going."

Vino and Vango; Our Sewing Room "What I notice is on Saturdays and Sundays, the brunch crowd is just amazing. It's three people deep on the sidewalk and no parking available.

People are coming downtown, and that's great," says Pauline Hauder, owner of 10-year-old Vino and Vango, a DIY paint studio. Hauder, a former art teacher, credits the longevity of her business to her perseverance and resilience.

"You have to keep changing. You have to add new things and keep it fresh," she says.

Hauder opens some of her space to networking sessions. Or smaller businesses may set up for a few weekends to sell clothing, or host a tie-dyeing workshop.

Still, her bread and butter are public and private art parties, at which participants all learn to paint the same picture under Hauder's tutelage.

"And people can bring their own beverages," Hauder says. "Wine, beer, just no hard alcohol. It's a really fun time."

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