Women-Owned Companies Bloom In NewBo, Czech Village

By Francie Williamson The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

CEDAR RAPIDS

When Mia Suntken decided to start her own business, she knew exactly where she wanted to locate -- the NewBo or Czech Village neighborhoods.

"I live in the area and it's a great place, with a lot of other attractions and things going on," said Suntken, owner of the Copper Alligator, 65 16th Ave. SW, which sells vintage clothing and accessories and other eclectic items. "It really was a no-brainer, kind of."

Several women business owners, such as Suntken, have decided to locate their businesses in Czech Village and NewBo -- so many, in fact, that the neighborhood exceeds the state and national average for the percentage of female-owned businesses.

Business ownership by gender

Source: U.S. Census

Jennifer Pruden, executive director for the Czech Village/New Bohemia Main Street District, said approximately 47 percent of the roughly 150 businesses in the district are owned, co-owned, managed or led by women.

Census statistics from 2007, the most recent available, show that 25 percent of the small businesses in Iowa were women-owned. Nationwide, 28.7 percent of small businesses were owned by women.

"It seems like the area is more approachable or easier for small businesses to get started in, and often those are owned by women," Pruden said.

Suntken, who operated for six months out of a room in NewBo before opening her store three and a half years ago, said her neighbors have been very supportive.

"Other female business owners, we talk together and we plan things," she said.

Suntken added that the Main Street district and the Czech Village Association "are here to really help."

Different challenges

Diane Ramsey, chief executive officer of the Iowa Women's Leadership Conference, said women-owned businesses face a number of different challenges than of male-owned businesses.

Women-owned businesses "have less revenue and less profitability," Ramsey said. "They also tend to have a shorter life span, which may be why they aren't as lucrative."

Ramsey, whose organization created the "Shark Tank"-like Invest in She eventsin which six female entrepreneurs make pitches to eight investors who in turn decide whether they should fund the businesses, said women-owned businesses often skew toward retail. And retail is predominantly what you will find in Czech Village and NewBo.

Collaboration is key At the NewBo City Market at 1100 Third St. SE, former executive director Kristie Wetjen said more than 40 percent of the businesses are women-owned. That includes Julie Parisi's pasta business, Zaza's.

Parisi, who also operates a storefront location on Bowery Street in Iowa City and sells her products at the New Pioneer Food Co-op in Cedar Rapids, came to the market last October. She said it was less intimidating to open there because there is less risk involved.

"You're on the line for a lot more when you're by yourself," Parisi said. "Here, you feel like you're part of something bigger. There's a lot of support."

Wendy Zimmerman, owner of Get Fresh, which sells raw juice, smoothies and other beverages, agreed.

"We don't compete with each other. We are continually having conversations with each other on how to improve upon what we each have started," she said.

Wetjen added that rental costs are lower and a lot of the equipment and marketing is provided.

Before Cheryl Sheeley, owner of the Garden Wren Florist and Yarn, moved to the Cherry Building, a block from the NewBo Market, at 329 10th Ave. SE in 2010, she operated her business in Palo and, post-flood, out of her home.

"I came in looking for a creative, non-retail space. This building is home to artists who are very talented and very passionate," Sheeley said.

"The feeling inside the building was right for me. Women who have businesses here support each other and look to each other for ideas."

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