Women Drive ‘Lightning Speed’ Small Business Boom

By Erin James
The York Dispatch, Pa.

Jasmine Rivera remembers clearly the day a green Expedition drove onto the lot at Vellons with its check-engine light on.

The former 911 dispatcher had been working as a secretary at the auto-repair business owned by her then-boyfriend. But that day, Rivera decided she was going to fix a car.

“They looked at me like I was crazy,” she said.

But Rivera, 37, fixed that car, and she’s fixed many more since. Today, she is a state-certified inspector and mechanic who can do everything from changing your vehicle’s oil to installing a new radiator.

She’s also the owner of Vellons at 412 Norway St. in York City. While she may have one of the less traditional woman-owned businesses in the city, she’s one example of how women are changing the small-business landscape in a city that’s working to reinvent itself as a destination for shoppers and tourists.

Downtown ladies: For now, the economic-development focus of city officials and groups like Downtown Inc is aimed at the city’s core. There, investments in streetscape improvements, public art and historic landmarks like Central Market have created a vibrant stretch of retail shops and independent restaurants.

Sonia Huntzinger, executive director of Downtown Inc, said she’d never really stopped to think about the fact that women are the primary drivers of busy storefronts on West Philadelphia and North Beaver streets.

“We are spinning so fast. Things are just happening at lightning speed in downtown York right now,” she said. “So is it a matter of not having a minute to pull back out and say at 30,000 feet ‘What really is going on here?'”

In just those few blocks, women-owned businesses include Nuts About Granola, Sweet Melissa’s Dream, Indigo Bleu, Just Cupcakes, Cherie Anne Designs, Kimman’s Co., Sunrise Soap Co., The Watchmaker’s Daughter, Foster’s Flower Shop, Esaan, My Girlfriend’s Wardrobe, Park Street Pantry, Arthur & Daughters and Lotus Moon Yoga.

And that doesn’t include the many female vendors inside Central Market — Sharmini’s Kitchen, Under One Sun, Take Five Expresso Bar, Bair’s Fried Chicken and Global Cafe, to name a few.

When it comes to York’s larger industries, including economic development, it’s still very much “a man’s world,” Huntzinger said.

But the collective force of shop owners downtown is making York City a destination, she said.

“I think more women are inclined to collaborate and say, ‘Let’s hold an event,'” Huntzinger said.

Downtown is not the only area of York City where women have established businesses, however. Women own beauty salons, day care centers, restaurants, retail shops, marketing firms, law offices and art studios all over the city.

‘Girl power’: On Tuesday, Mayor Kim Bracey will host her fourth women- and minority-owned business luncheon featuring keynote speaker Carl Dorvil, a “world renowned entrepreneur with a passion for social enterprises,” according to a city news release.

“I believe, in York, that small businesses and minority businesses haven’t always been at the table or even thought about,” Bracey said. “And they’re what makes our communities tick and hum and move.”

Bracey said the event is a chance to say thanks to business owners who are paying taxes and taking a risk in the community.
Women, especially, “keep our city moving in the right direction,” she said.

“You can’t help but notice it,” Bracey said. “Girl power.”

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