Each entrepreneur brings a unique philosophy to her work. For instance, Teeny Bee’s Kristie Case focuses on a curated assortment of kids’ wares. Jill Erickson, owner of Spoils of Wear, stocks her shelves with ethical and sustainable fashion brands. Kae Kozlowski operates Brow Chic, a salon for eyebrow shaping, makeup application, and eyelash extensions. And the vintage game belongs to Kitty Van Hofwegen, of Everyday People; Hayley Bush of Lula Vintage Wear; and Megan McGuire of Up Six Vintage. Some could argue these three are the district’s grandes dames. “While vintage fits with my sustainability mission,” says Erickson, “I don’t focus on it because others in the ’hood do it better.”
Despite their different niches, the women are very supportive of one another. “You start a business, and it feels like you’re doing it all on your own,” says McGuire, “but you’re not.” She believes that when the neighboring businesses pool resources and send customers to each other’s stores, they are giving the shopper what they want: camaraderie.
The communication started at a series of meetings to discuss the new Whole Foods that opened on Selby Avenue in 2016 and the disruption from construction, the increase in traffic, a new apartment complex, and more. “We noticed the community really came together and talked to one another,” says Erickson. “A lot of important decisions had to be made and it became evident that we really needed each other.”
While the group certainly collaborates, they also put their money where their mouths are and keep their dollars local. “I have long believed that support means being a frequent local shopper and telling other people about it,” says Kozlowski. “I feel personally connected with the other businesses, and now my clients do, too. We all benefit from each other.”
Case, who opened Teeny Bee six years ago, felt she was on her own island. But as more locally owned businesses have opened, hers has only benefitted.
Some of the women even play shopkeeper for each other. “It can be super lonely manning your business on quiet days,” says Erickson, who sometimes swaps spots with her next-door neighbor and close friend, Case, to work the Teeny Bee till. The two even operate a YouTube channel where they discuss the hardships of owning a retail store in this tough climate dominated by e-commerce.
Veterans also play big sister to the new kids on the block. “Everyone genuinely wants one another to succeed,” says Liberty Fontimayor, owner of fashion boutique Common Coast. Since opening her doors in November, her new neighbors have stopped by to share business stories, offer guidance, and continually check in. Fontimayor returns the favors and includes goods from the nearby stores in her Instagram stories. “I show my customers how they can pair a cool vintage tee with a new cardigan from my boutique.”
It’s obvious these women, like those in any thriving retail neighborhood, are much more than the sum of their parts. “We are creatives, event planners, mompreneurs, crime stoppers, and community builders,” says McGuire. “We’re examples for future female business owners.”
As escalating rent and taxes drive businesses off Grand Avenue, has this intersection become St. Paul’s new spot to #shopsmall? Only time will tell. But we need to play our part. We need the success stories like this to showcase the importance in supporting neighborhood businesses and the entrepreneurs who run them. A reminder to keep our dollars local and help ensure that storefronts remain vibrant, friendly shopkeepers stick around, and neighborhoods thrive.