OTTAWA — Downtown Ottawa has seen the addition of new businesses in the last year or two, with the total number has risen to 60 businesses.
Of those 60 businesses, 26 are owned and operated by women of different ages, with varying degrees of business experience and different reasons for opening a business in town.
“They’re an active part of their business,” said Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Amy Sealts. “They’re not just a silent owner.”
Deb Barney and Chris Haselman opened their store, Always Blessed, a year ago, and one of them is always at the store, Haselman said. They are both retired teachers who were looking for something to do with retirement. The idea for opening a store together was actually a playground idea, Barney said.
“I was doing recess duty when I was still teaching,” she explained. “Chris drove by and stopped to say hi. We were talking and I said, ‘Why don’t we open a store together,’ and she said sure. It was a playground idea that became a reality.”
Now they’re selling Christian family items, including decor, cards and jewelry.
“It all fell into place,” Haselman said. “A guy called us and said he had a store to rent. We checked it out and asked him how much the rent would be. He told us, and we took it.”
The store already had shelves and everything else needed for a store in it, she said. The only work they had to do was building the counter.
“I tell Deb if this ever fails, we can open a winery in the back,” Haselman said.
Alivia Croy, 23, opened her business, a clothing store called Signature Look Boutique, five months ago, a few months after Barney and Haselman opened theirs.
“When people see a new person starting a business, it tends to inspire other people who are on the fence to take their own chance,” Sealts said.
Things lined up for Croy to open the store.
“A clothing store has not always been my plan,” Croy said. “I always knew I wanted to own my own business, and I love fashion, so it made sense to put them together. I took four years of business classes in high school, college level, and I learn as I go.”
After winning the closed auction for the building, 240 E. Main St., she and her husband, Nolan, spent a great deal of time remodeling it for her store, Croy said. That was only the beginning of the challenges she faced getting the store ready to open.
“Deciding on a target market and deciding what people in Ottawa would like was challenging,” she explained. “(You’re) coming to terms with the amount of money you have to spend to make something look beautiful.”
Kristen Gerding-Heffner had to completely remodel her dance and tumbling clothing and equipment store, The Dance Boutique. She purchased a building at 211 E. Main St., which was once a pizza restaurant that was water damaged during the 2007 flood.
The building still had restaurant equipment in it when she purchased the building, as well as the water damage, she said. It took months to remodel the building, Gerding-Heffner said. The store has been open for two years now.
“Just getting your name out and letting people know you’re there,” Gerding-Heffner said about the challenges she’s faced since opening The Dance Boutique in 2015. “Social media makes that easier, though that comes with its own challenges.”
Gerding-Heffner said she didn’t have retail experience first starting out. She does have a dance studio in Glandorf she opened in 2011.
“I picked the brains of people who did,” she explained. “The new business owners come to me to ask questions. We support one another and have each other’s backs.”
Gerding-Heffner said she used to worry about flooding when the river started to rise, but the other store owners taught her which water levels to watch out for.
Barney, Haselman, Croy and Gerding-Heffner all said community support has been amazing since they opened their businesses.
“We’re very happy and surprised with the community support in just the few months,” Croy said.
“People have been great and so supportive,” Barney said. “I like keeping Ottawa alive.”
Talking about the economic health of downtown Ottawa, Sealts said, “There’s been peaks and valleys. There’s a lot of momentum having quite a few businesses cropping up within the last year.”
Standing behind the counter of her clothing store, Croy added, “Sometimes it still feels like a dream. Some days it’s indescribable. There’s no ceiling. People say there’s a glass ceiling. There’s no ceiling for me.”
Reach Bryan Reynolds 567-242-0362.