Hudson is gearing up for the grand opening of her Bloom Boutique, offering the latest fashions for teens, tweens and women, at 329 Commerce St. in downtown Kingsport.
“With our youngest starting kindergarten this fall, my husband began encouraging me to do something for me,” said Hudson, 32. “So after eight months of planning and remodeling, Bloom Boutique will be opening mid-June.”
Bloom is one of several female owned small businesses popping up around the intersection of New and Commerce streets in downtown Kingsport.
Miranda Fawn Harris moved her In a Mother’s Eye Unique Photography business out of her home and into a building across the street from Bloom Boutique in February. And Stacey Salyer and Vicki Davis purchased The Courtyard Restaurant, next door to Bloom, from its original owner, Kathy Gilliam, in April.
Around the corner on New Street, shoppers will find Amber Frady’s new Sweetly Redeemed bakery and Teresa Christian’s Parisian Salon, which opened its doors in February.
“All of my neighbors have been extremely welcoming and supportive,” Hudson said. “I am amazed at all of the encouragement I have received from other women business owners. We seem to fuel each other’s drive for success.”
Harris, who worked as a dental hygienist and in oral surgery before deciding to turn her love of photography into a career as a photojournalistic lifestyle/wedding photographer, agrees.
“I think it’s empowering for us as women to look across the street and know that our neighbor is a beautiful, strong woman,” she said. “No offense to men, but I think women are more prone to do the neighborly thing. I would walk over in a heartbeat and say, ‘Hey, I need a light bulb.’ We have made it into a sisterhood almost. ... We back each other up.We advertise for each other. It’s a unity.”
According to the National Women’s Business Council, women-owned firms grew 44 percent from 1997 to 2007, twice as fast as male-owned firms. There are currently 7.8 million women-owned businesses in the United States, and 88 percent of those are small businesses. Being surrounded by so many fellow female entrepreneurs — especially those who are also wives and mothers — has been a blessing, Salyer said.
“We all are stepping outside of our comfort zone and just taking that leap of I know I can do it, it’s time,” she said.
Both Salyer and Davis have worked at The Courtyard for years — Salyer on and off for the past six years and Davis since Kathy Gilliam opened the restaurant 13 years ago — but neither ever imagined that some day the business would be theirs.
“We’re both mothers and at that time didn’t want to work full time, so this enabled us to get out of the house and have some adult interaction but also to be home with our children and do what we needed to do with them,” Salyer said. “We bonded with Kathy, and that friendship grew over the years.She needed to take a little break because of family, but she wasn’t sure how it was going to happen, so she prayed about it. That’s where we stepped in."
“For (Kathy) and for us, the timing was right. It was almost a blessing in disguise that we were here. (Kathy) feels like she’s passing down her baby. When we realized that it was going to work out and it was going to come to fruition, she said it was just a weight lifted off her shoulders because she would rather no other two buy it than us. ... She has taught us everything — the cakes, the quiches. I don’t want people to feel like that has changed. In fact, people have said they don’t notice a difference at all. She’s a very good teacher, she’s a very good mother hen.”
Salyer said she and Davis do, however, want to add their own unique touches to the business.
“We feel like we can keep the same clientele that she’s established for 13 years, but also be able to bring in a little bit different demographic age-wise and cater a little bit to men,” she said. “We’ve changed the sign, we’re getting ready to become a part of the Quilt Trail. That’s something we are excited to be a part of. We’re adding new things to the menu — more variety of sandwiches and wraps — but we’re still doing the catering and the parties and after-hour events.”
Harris, too, is thrilled to finally be a part of downtown Kingsport after operating her photography business out of her home for the past eight years.
“I prayed for years to have my own studio space, and I knew I wanted it to be in the heart of downtown,” said Harris, a wife and mother of four. “This has been a search for years. Every time I would find a place, for whatever reason it just wasn’t the right fit. When I came upon (the store on) Commerce, the day the for rent sign went up, I locked in a contract. And instantly, us women gravitated together. As I was renovating the building, Ms. Kathy (Gilliam from The Courtyard) would bring me over lunch and tea. We just grew this bond between us ladies.”
Harris said she’s seeing more and more women take that leap of faith and start their own business.
“In today’s world, I feel like a lot of women are realizing that maybe their hobbies aren’t so much a hobby as a demand that they can actually be successful with,” she said. “I also feel that people are more open to the idea of women being the breadwinners. “I’m a mom of four. I juggle every sport known to man. I have a set of twins that are only 20 months old. Also, my husband and I have no family in this area. I juggle (my work) with my husband’s work schedule and God’s just really blessed my business. I’ve prayed for this a long time, and He’s just opened doors for me that I never imagined for myself.”
Salyer said she would encourage other women who have been dreaming of owning their own business to go for it.
“If you have the support of your family and friends, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t go for it,” she said. “And if you have children and are trying to juggle, remember, you’re not the first. I have to keep telling myself, I’m not the first mother to not meet the bus, I’m not the first mother to be late. I can’t go on all the field trips anymore, and my children will survive. I do have to keep saying, they will be fine, we will be fine. At least I won’t look back with regrets. We’ve given it our all, we will give it our all.
“I really would just encourage other women to go for it. If the doors close, then they close and you take a step back and you say, you know what, it’s not meant to be right now. But if that door opens, go through and keep going.”