Sisterhood Of Women-Run Businesses Leads A Revival In Syracuse

By Katrina Tulloch
Syracuse Media Group, N.Y.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) The rapid-fire openings of businesses on S. Warren Street in Syracuse have jumpstarted foot traffic on that side of downtown. Kathie Morris, owner of The Changing Room, calls it “W.O.W.” or the Women of Warren. The street is now a hub for foodies and shoppers, thanks to a sisterhood of lady bosses who support each other and send customers to each other’s storefronts.

Syracuse Media Group, N.Y.

Five years ago, South Warren Street in downtown Syracuse could’ve been a portal to a ghost town. Empty storefronts and busted parking meters lined the sidewalks.

Now it’s bustling, even in the dead of winter.

Major residential and hospitality additions (Merchants Commons, Icon Tower, Marriott Syracuse Downtown) brought residents and visitors to the street. But what keeps them there? A flurry of businesses owned by women entrepreneurs have opened in the last five years, transforming the once quiet area of city.

These women aren’t blazing a trail for female business owners downtown, or even on South Warren Street. Plenty of women-run companies in Armory and Hanover Squares have existed in the past. Jini Cerio has been running Markowitz Florist (212 S. Warren St.) for decades.

However, the rapid-fire openings of these businesses have jumpstarted the foot traffic on this side of downtown. Kathie Morris, owner of The Changing Room, calls it “W.O.W.” or the Women of Warren. The street now is a hub for foodies and shoppers, thanks to a sisterhood of lady bosses who support each other and send customers to each other’s storefronts.

Kathie Morris — The Changing Room
425 S. Warren St.
Kathie Morris opened The Changing Room in February 2012, selling vintage-inspired clothing and accessories. At that time, she remembers South Warren Street was a much lonelier, emptier slice of downtown.

“There was nobody and nothing down here,” says Morris. “The buildings were all boarded up and painted black. I’ve had customers tell me they didn’t want to walk down this street.”

Fast forward to 2017, when businesses or apartments have filled up many of those empty buildings. New foot traffic has boosted the Changing Room’s sales.

When Vintage Love moved in, 40 steps away, Morris was delighted. It’s not a competition, she says. She wants to see South Warren Street become a shopping destination.

“I think we enhance each other,” she says. “Having neighbors is great. We send our shoppers to each other, to find different accessories. It’s a true, real neighborhood now.”

Morris also co-hosts events with CNY Mode and Ashley Hansen Beauty Nation on the same block. In December, they offered vintage clothes and makeup styling before the 1920s-themed New Year’s Eve party at the Marriott Syracuse Downtown.

Morris liked the downtown changes so much that she and her husband moved out of their four-bedroom Baldwinsville house and into a two-bedroom corner apartment in Merchants Commons. She cut down her work commute from 35 minutes to two, and can now see her storefront from her own window.

Shauna Diliberto and Susan Hodell — Vintage Love
201 E. Jefferson St., Syracuse. (corner of South Warren Street)

The owners of Vintage Love previously sold vintage goods online and at pop-up shops around Central New York for years. They each ran their own businesses: Susan Hodell owned Driftwood and Glitter and Shauna Diliberto owned maeflowers vintage.

They met in July 2015 at the Syracuse City Market, and loved each other’s collections. When Diliberto decided to open a downtown shop, she called up Hodell and asked if she wanted to run a shop together. Hodell agreed right away.

“We’re all about collaboration,” says Diliberto. “Without Sue, I couldn’t open up this store.”

They negotiated a year-long lease for the former UPS store. They painted the walls white and ripped out a yellowed, stained grayish-blue carpet themselves.

“We put our blood, sweat and tears into remodeling it,” Diliberto says.

Vintage Love officially opened on May 12, 2016. Hodell is the decor specialist. She sells mid-century furniture and home goods, particularly from the 1960s and 1970s. Diliberto brings the vintage clothes, with a collection spanning the 1960s to the 1990s.

Cherri Hassett — Soup R Salads
308 S. Warren St.
Cherri Hassett ran the kitchen at Pastabilities for 15 years before deciding she wanted to work for herself. Early in the evolution of South Warren Street, she opened Soup R Salads in 2012.

She had three employees then, and now she has eight. It’s a family operation, with her sister, daughter and cousins behind the counter. Her restaurant didn’t attract many new customers at first.

“It was scary, putting my own money on the line,” says Hassett. “But word spread that we have great food. Now we do pretty good business.”

Bankers, judges, journalists and construction workers now line up every weekday, for her creamy chowders, savory grilled sandwiches and bacon-wrapped meatloaf.

Downtown residents and businesses moved in all around the little lunch joint, from Merchants Commons to the Icon Towers. Hassett hasn’t made any major changes to her business since it opened, but she recently signed a contract to stay in her space for another five years.

Otro Cinco — Johanna Yorke
206 S. Warren St.
Johanna Yorke opened Otro Cinco in October 2013 to accommodate all the “over-spillage” of customers from her original restaurant, Alto Cinco.

Alto Cinco had been around for 18 years on Westcott Street, buzzing with customers at all hours. Yorke had no space to expand, so she opened Otro Cinco downtown with a different style in mind: Mexican-Southwest-California-Spanish cuisine.

As luck would have it, that’s when her landlord approached her with the option to expand Alto Cinco. The previous occupant, Munjed’s Middle Eastern Cafe, moved across the street. A few months later, Yorke got the green light to expand Otro Cinco as well, adding a full dining room to the tiny restaurant.

“We had back-to-back expansions; it was a crazy couple of years,” Yorke says. “All of a sudden, I had these huge restaurants.”

She barrelled forward, seizing every opportunity to drive up the business. Both locations started holding more promotions and hosting concerts. Otro added new food to try from every region of Spain. Yorke said 2015 and 2016 were her best-ever years for business.

“I never expected business to go so well,” she said. “It seems like every year, a new place opens (on South Warren Street). I think it’s better for everyone.”

Natalie Evans and Jennifer Walls — The Sweet Praxis
203 E. Water St., Syracuse (corner of South Warren Street)
The most recent team of lady bosses to land on South Warren Street brought all the right products for downtowners who love dessert.

Bakers Natalie Evans and Jennifer Walls launched The Sweet Praxis in May 2011. They’ve sold their sweet treats at the Central New York Regional Market, festivals and local pop-up shops, but always wanted a brick and mortar bakery.

After five years of detailed planning and saving, they moved into the historic Grange Building, at the northeast corner of East Water and South Warren streets.

“We want this to be a destination for foodies outside our region,” Evans says. “We think we have the potential to do it.”
They hired eight employees and opened Nov. 3. Individual desserts and lunch options are available at the shop, and they also cater birthdays, weddings and corporate events.

Stephanie Burghardt — CNY Mode
Ashley Hansen — Ashley Hansen’s Beauty Nation
499 S. Warren St.
Stephanie Burghardt opened CNY Mode three years ago as a model management company and photo studio, and often hired Ashley Hansen for her hair and makeup services.

Soon, Hansen moved into the office with her business called Ashley Hansen’s Beauty Nation, open for individuals, bridal parties and more. Between both women, one corner of South Warren Street has become a beauty hub for fashion shoots and runway show prep.

In the next five years, Burghardt would love to see this side of downtown emerge as a fashion district, with diverse retailers and splashy advertising. First, she believes businesses need to do more than just put up their signs.
“I don’t think people do enough to get their businesses out there,” she says. “It’s bad if people walk by your business and don’t know you’re there.”

Born and raised in Montreal, Burghardt saw that businesses there market themselves constantly, offering new promotions and window displays all year long. Though Montreal has more population, she says Syracuse businesses can take some tips from those bigger markets.

Hansen would like to see the momentum continue with downtown’s expansion, with shoppers and diners seeking more options outside of the well-established Armory and Hanover Squares.

“We have a boardwalk feel over here,” says Hansen. “We’re all connecting as a local community of small business owners, expanding our networks. It’s a chain reaction.”

Little by little, block by block. That’s how a sleepy downtown wakes up.

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