- Associated Press - Thursday, February 18, 2016

MURPHYSBORO, Ill. (AP) - Whenever Tonya Diehl visited her sister in Geneseo, she was mesmerized by the vast variety of specialty shops in the city’s downtown.

Then she’d return to Murphysboro, wishing the city had shops like that.

One day, almost on a whim, she decided she would open just the kind of shop she loved. After all, for the past five years, she’d run a relatively successful blog about “do-it-yourself” projects for the home, a blog that had garnered 250,000 to 300,000 page views a month.

“Oh, why can’t we have this in Murphysboro?” the 35-year-old bemoaned. “And I just decided we were going to do it. It kind of happened.” By Stephanie Esters. The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan.

What happened was her opening Love of Family and Home, a brick-and-mortar store at 1337 Walnut St., right in the heart of Murphysboro’s downtown business district in October 2014. She sells women’s clothing, home decor, gifts and other accessories.

Hers became one of the newest additions to the growing landscape of women-owned businesses in Murphysboro. Though there is not an accurate accounting of how many women-owned businesses there are in the city, some of those who have been watching the trend tally at least 35.

Love of Family and Home is a business away from TNT hair studio, owned by Tina Lustig and Tara Judy, and across the street from two other women-owned businesses, the Amazing Grace & Accents Boutique (co-owned by four women) and Think Vintage! antiques and décor.

At its one-year anniversary in October, Diehl doubled the square footage of Love of Family and Home, renting the available commercial spot next to her store.

Illinois has the fifth highest percentages of women-owned businesses: 4.2 percent out of a 417,500 firms, according to a National Women’s Business Council 2012 survey of business owners. That group reported that there were 9.8 million women-owned businesses in this country, an increase of 26.8 percent - 2,086,282 businesses from the year 2007. Illinois rounded out the top five states for women-owned businesses, led by California (13.4 percent); Texas (8.8 percent); Florida (8.2 percent); and New York (7.3 percent).

U.S. Census data reports Murphysboro had 793 firms in 2007, but does not list the number of either women- or men-owned firms. (In both instances, the data is noted as “suppressed; does not meet publication standards.”)

A handful of the women-owned businesses in the city - Cindy B’s Cafe and Kimberly Kalaher’s Heartland Chiropractice & Rehab, for instance - are members of the Murphysboro Chamber of Commerce.

“We would love to have all of the businesses as members, and we hope that at some point they all become members,” said Steve Webb, new executive director of the Murphysboro Chamber of Commerce.

Another 14 women-owned businesses are among the 17 companies that make up Unique Shops, a group that organizes events to attract shoppers into the city, said co-founder Joe Green. In the past two years, there have been about 10 new women-headed shops open in the city.

He and his wife, Carol, co-own Sis’s Memories, an antique and collectibles shop in Murphysboro.

“I think it’s fantastic,” Joe Green said of the female entrepreneurs. “Women have a different perspective on some of the type of stores. I mean, it’s fine like me or George (McNeal of George’s Resale & Antiques) have furniture and things like that, but most of the people that have started their own shops are into fashion, into new types of furniture . which is great, and we really welcome all of them here to Murphysboro.”

Some of the women entrepreneurs say they started their businesses to see the types of stores they like to shop in and to help the local economy while promoting their city.

One of those who’s noticed the increase in women-owned businesses is Rachel Ensor, an artist who opened the Murphysboro Art School in the John A. Logan Historic District in 2011.

“I think because we have a women’s market here . which means we have a lot of women do the shopping and, of course, many of us who live in Murphysboro would rather buy them in Murphysboro, because we’d rather promote a business in our town than support a business in Carbondale,” she said. “We’d rather see the downtown thrive, and it’s doing that.”

About 52 percent of Murphysboro’s population is women, according to Census figures.

Ensor desires to see an artist enclave develop in the John A. Logan Historic District, which already had the women-owned Jones School, a metalsmithing shop and school owned by Molly Groom Alter, and Folktale Studios, a tintype photography shop and boutique, on the grounds of the John A. Logan Museum, run by Jessica Booth.

Ensor calls all of the businesswomen “industrious” women.

Diehl, a registered nurse, works about two days in Carbondale. She started her blog in November 2010, and some of her work grabbed the attention of folks at Woman’s Day magazine, who featured her and her closet-office setup in a 2012 magazine.

Across the street from Diehl’s shop is Think Vintage!, whose owner Andrea Stephens, ran a similar vintage store for 15 years out in San Francisco. She relocated back here three years ago, opening her business in a narrow space that is still bigger than her shop out in California, she said.

One of the longer-running businesses in town belongs to Michele Spring-Zimbelman, owner of You’ve Got the Look hair salon. She started that business in 2006, moving into the yellow house at 703 Walnut St. in 2008.

A block over from her is the newer Polka Dots and Paislees - opened a week after Apple Festival 2015 ended - by Stacey Brewer, who is also a dental hygienist.

Polka Dots and Paislees is a monogram, clothing and jewelry and accessories store, Brewer’s third brick-and-mortar business: She opened her flagship in Benton, Kentucky, in 2010, and another in 2013 in Paris, Tennessee. She also sells her merchandise from her website and on Etsy, a global online community where people can sell homemade items to each other.

Brewer landed in Murphysboro after she went looking for another space to open a third store. A former John A. Logan College and SIU student, she had friends here and liked the region.

She’d grown up attending arts and craft shows, where her mother sold various arts and crafts items. In 2008, she’d started selling Scentsy candles and items at arts and crafts show when she got re-interested in the whole arts and crafts arena, she said.

“We started going to craft shows again, and while we were there, we just sparked a new interest in it,” Brewer said. “That was our start, the embroidery. We just kind of started with that. We’re one of the first ones to bring it to this area.”

Her entrepreneurial spirit, in part, came from her grandparents and parents, who for 46 years, have owned and run a restaurant in Hardin, Kentucky.

“I just kind of took a leap of faith,” she said.

She credits the women in Murphysboro with helping her business launch. Now, she said, she’s beginning to see more college-aged young women come through the store.

Some of the women have brought a bit of fame to Murphysboro with their delectable treasures, such as the Rule of Pie bakeshop, which is co-owned by wife and husband Miranda and Rick Stapel, and One Hot Cookie, a sweets and full-line catering business opened here in 2011 by Sarah Lavender-Brashear.

Lavender-Brashear said she started her business after leaving the corporate world, where she worked in admissions for a college that no longer exists. She had grown up helping out her grandparents in Elsie’s Café, a restaurant they owned in the 1970s.

” I was raised in it, so I knew about having a business and things like that, and I just went back to it,” she said. “We use a lot of my grandmother’s recipes in what we do.”

Some of the women are excited about the newest upcoming addition, the Historic Hull House Inn, former home of politician and businessman William H. Hull. The two-story Italianate-style house was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.

This past Wednesday afternoon, owner Theresa Blankenship was busy varnishing the top of an old wooden cabinet-looking item that came with the inn. She hopes to have the inn open by Valentine’s Day. She, too, runs an online business - Tibby Knoll, billed as a “vintage upcycle handmade gifts” store.

“I just know from myself, with the Murphysboro School of Art, I wanted to do something that I could do and make and paint and I also wanted to make a contribution to town, so that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing,” Ensor said. “I’m pretty encouraged, I’m really encouraged by these really productive women and all these things they are doing.”


Source: The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan, https://bit.ly/20kG3Ak


Information from: Southern Illinoisan, https://www.southernillinoisan.com

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