By Jessica Wray
Evansville Courier & Press, Ind.
It’s all in the family, and it runs in her blood, says Gina McCalister, who owns and operates a cozy boutique gift shop and tea room in downtown Newburgh. She’s the third generation in a line of strong, independent women to own her own store — a fact she couldn’t be more proud of.
McCalister moved from her job as a corporate interior designer, to a small-business owner of Mulberry Jean’s Accents on State Street in Newburgh. And McCalister isn’t alone. More than 20 small businesses and restaurants in downtown Newburgh are owned and operated by women.
“I circled the pond three or four times before diving in,” McCalister said. “Which I think is something you do when starting your own business.”
The store is named after McCalister’s grandmother, Mulberry Edith, and her mother, Barbara Jean. Both women, she said, owned their own boutique gift shops in Evansville. Her grandmother owned a store where U.S. 41 now runs through. She said her grandmother was then asked by Weinbach’s to set up her gift shop in their store.
“Women didn’t own businesses back then,” McCalister said. “Or maybe they owned them with their husbands. But my granny was the owner. This was back in the ’50s … she saved up and had a little café and a little gift shop, called Edith’s Imports.”
She has a shadowbox displaying business cards, pictures and newspaper clippings from her mother’s and grandmother’s stores.
McCalister originally owned a small building on West Jennings Street, then expanded to another unit next door. On her third expansion, she moved into her current building at 600 State Street — which needed a bit of work, she said.
“This building had no windows, indoor-outdoor carpet was glued to the floor,” she said. “My husband and I did all the renovations ourselves.”
McCalister said her husband and family have been supportive of her business. She and other women business owners in Newburgh, including Flutter owner Erin Morrison, agreed that owning their stores would have been difficult or impossible without help from spouses or family members.
“My husband is a huge part of the business side of it. He’s just handed over the creativity and the face of the store and the buying to me,” said Morrison. “Obviously, the store is me to a T. It’s my whole everything. But as far as the books, it wouldn’t be open without my husband. I don’t take all the credit. I don’t want to make it sound like I’m this amazing business woman … I do juggle the kids, I take care of them and I take care of the business.”
Without her husband, McCalister said, “I thing it would be really hard as a single woman. Not that you couldn’t do it, but that it would be harder.”
Morrison said she celebrated Flutter’s fourth year on Tuesday.
Cleo’s owner Jeannie Kellams said she decided to open her business in Newburgh because of the quaintness of the downtown area and the warm, welcoming people who live and work there.
“For me, it’s the sense of community, it’s the charm of the downtown, it’s the river,” she said. .
Kellams worked at Winslow Elementary School as a teacher until her retirement in 2012, when she, her brother and sister decided to purchase the building on W. Jennings Street that now houses Cleo’s — named after Kellams’ mother. Kellams shares ownership of the business, but manages all of the baking and day-to-day operations.
“I can’t speak for other people, but (running your own business) is something you can do to still be involved with your family,” she said. “There are a lot more opportunities for women than their used to be. There are just so many opportunities for careers these days. That’s part of it.”
Becky Geis, has owned Heart of Newburgh for more than 30 years. The store has evolved over the past three decades, and now takes up three buildings on the corner of N. Plum Street.
“I think traditionally these kinds of stores that are needed in this type of environment, I think these types of businesses lean more toward being owned by women.”
But it’s not just downtown shops and restaurants women have taken leadership positions in for the town. There are three women who serve on the Newburgh Town Council, and a woman who serves as the manager of the town’s daily operation. Lori Buehlman has been the town manager for the past two years, and administers five town boards including the town council.
“I believe that the success of a community is directly related to empowering businesses and individuals of all backgrounds, beliefs, and genders so that they may contribute to the economic growth of the community,” Buehlman said. “Newburgh is host to many women owned and operated businesses, and though we encourage any and all entrepreneurs, I am overjoyed to see our community directly support women.”