A year ago, Amy Sporrer was searching for the perfect location for Spruce, her home decor and gift shop. She was drawn to the area near 50th and Leavenworth Streets.
With its mix of boutiques, antique stores, restaurants and friendly shopkeepers, there was something special about the corridor even though Sporrer couldn't quite put her finger on it.
She opened her store at 5022 Leavenworth St. in September. Last month, she discovered what was so special about the area — the concentration of women-owned businesses, a fact Sporrer learned when she asked her business neighbors to celebrate International Women's Day this Friday.
“You know it, but you don't recognize it,” Sporrer said. “Our building has four businesses owned by women.”
Leavenworth Street from 49th to 56th Streets is home to about a dozen women business owners. Participating retailers in that stretch will offer specials Friday, but the business owners lean on each other year round.
“I try real hard to point customers to my neighbors,” Sporrer said. “We boost each other up. It's hard to get a small business going and keep it going.”
Some businesses like Sporrer's are relatively new. Some have been there awhile.
Weird Wild Stuff at 4905 Leavenworth got its start when owner Leah Denomme's mother, Ellie Hollister, moved into the 2,000-square-foot shop eight years ago. Denomme took over the business in 2009 after her mother's death.
She sells clothing, accessories and posters from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, including women's dresses with lineman-size shoulder pads. The store also rents vintage clothing, including women and men's platform shoes, white Go-Go boots and flower-power print dresses.
But if shoppers can't find what they're looking for on her racks, Denomme has suggestions.
“I'm definitely going to send them in the right direction,” said Denomme, “and that usually doesn't veer far from Leavenworth Street.”
The area's businesses complement one another, said Andrea Tonniges, owner of Humble Home at 5018 Leavenworth, who also just recently realized the concentration of women-owned business neighbors.
“It wasn't even a conscious thing,” she said. “I just started thinking about it and realized how many women-owned businesses there are on the street.”
Nationwide, women-owned businesses in 2012 employed 7.7 million people, generated $1.3 trillion in revenues and accounted for 29 percent of all of the nation's 27 million businesses, according to an American Express report. During the 15-year period from 1997 to 2012, the percentage of women-owned firms in Nebraska rose nearly 35 percent to 45,100.
The Leavenworth businesses are good about supporting each other, said Tonniges whose store, Humble Home, sells vintage, refurbished furnishings and one-of-a-kind home decor.
“When a customer is hungry, we send them to J. Coco or Gerda's German Restaurant and Bakery,” she said. “If they're looking for an antique chandelier, I send them to McMillan's. She has a lot of lighting.”
Marcia Dwyer, owner of McMillan's Antiques, which sells mid-20th century furniture and accessories at 5002 Leavenworth, said the influx of women business owners on Leavenworth Street began about five years ago.
“When I moved here in 1999, women owners were rare,” said Dwyer, whose merchandise runs the gamut from elegant chandeliers to kitschy 1970s tropical-print lounge chairs.
Five years ago, Bhadra Yoga studio, owned by Melanie McLeod, moved into the neighborhood. The 1920s-era building with its tin ceilings exuded charm and was affordable, McLeod said.
When yoga classes are over, “my students go to Spruce and Humble Home, which are both owned by women,” McLeod said. “They flank me. This little retail strip is all women. Women, women, women, women-owned businesses!”
Part of the reason for that may be that rents are lower than other areas of the city and the retail spaces are small, just right for a first-time business owner, but with enough elbow room to employ one or two workers.
Plus, Dwyer said, “We're on the fringes of Dundee, Aksarben and the Field Club neighborhoods.”
Dwyer depends on word-of-mouth to bring in customers and, like her fellow business owners, she refers people “back and forth” to Gerda's for lunch, to Tasty Pastry & More for Mexican Empanadas or a big bowl of soup de jour or to Legend Comics & Coffee at 5207 Leavenworth for vintage comic books or a latte.
Wendy Pivonka co-owns Legend with her husband, Jason Dasenbrock, and David DeMarco. The store, which sells comic books from the 1940s and up, including underground comics from the 1960s, and modern, indie comic books, also has a full coffee bar that offers cappuccinos, lattes, smoothies and carries pastries from Gerda's.
“It was pretty amazing to see the list of women owners. It was only brought to my attention a few weeks ago,” Pivonka said.
DeMarco said it's nice to have so many businesses owned by women. “You've got the longtime businesses on the street — Gerda's and Barnhart Dance Studio and Sandy Kay's Salon, they've been there forever — but you've also got the newer businesses like J. Coco, Spruce and Tasty Pastry.”
Need an outfit to go with your 1960's underground comic book? DeMarco recommends Weird Wild Stuff — just down the street.
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