Freeport Women Business Owners Strengthen Downtown Commercial Scene

FREEPORT – Walk into one of the downtown retail and specialty stores and you’ll likely see a woman running the business.

According to Nicole Haas, brand director for the Greater Freeport Partnership, women-owned businesses in Freeport have opened at a higher rate in the past six months. This includes several downtown retail stores, but there are other women-owned businesses in Stephenson County outside of the retail industry.

With numerous boutiques and salons dotting the downtown landscape, three more women are ready to take the plunge into becoming small business owners.

Michelle Harrison plans to open Radiance Beauty Lounge by August 1; Ashley Jackson plans to open Ashley Jackson Beauty by August 18, and Mady Haight plans to open a boutique, with her handmade jewelry, by fall.

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The three women met recently to talk about their plans, owning their own business and being in the company of other women, either on the street or right next to their future business.

“Becoming my boss is a huge achievement for me,” Harrison said. “I have built my client base and am ready to take the leaps and bounds to be in the company of other women small business owners. My business will have a lush / lounge atmosphere. It’s older and more modern, exactly as I see myself – a modern day entrepreneur. “

Jackson, who was a stylist for 13 years, decided she was ready to take her work as an eyebrow artist to the next level. While operating her business from an established salon on the southern outskirts of Freeport, Jackson said she is living the dream of becoming an entrepreneur.

“It’s always been a dream as a stylist to have my salon, but as I specialized it became about timing, and now it’s my time,” Jackson said. . “Not every opportunity is meant to be seized, but this opportunity just screamed at me and matched my vision, my goal.”

Jodi Miller, who is Freeport’s first female mayor and former business owner, said she liked to see more women opening businesses in the city.

“As Freeport’s first female mayor and former business owner, I understand the dedication and long hours it takes to be successful and couldn’t be prouder of the women in our community who meet the challenges of owning and to run their businesses, ”Miller said. “I applaud the women of Freeport for their ability to wear many different hats, support and empower themselves and I wish everyone great success.”

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Statistics provided by the National Association of Women Business Owners indicate that women account for 51% of the ownership of 39% of all private businesses in the United States and contribute 8% of employment and 4.2% of income. .

The Small Business Administration, which helps many small businesses get started, says on its website that between 2014 and 2016, the number of female-owned employers increased by 6%, double the 3% of men.

Harrison said she was happy to be in the company of women who take ownership of their livelihoods and help other women find jobs. Harrison, an esthetician, plans to employ at least 12 stylists for her business which will be located at 120 S. Chicago Avenue in downtown Freeport.

Haight has an online store for his business named “Made by Mady”. With plans to open her boutique next to Jackson on East Stephenson Street, she is looking to change her name before it opens in the fall. She is planning a big reveal of the new name soon.

“Working alongside other businesswomen is the absolute best,” Haight said. “My business started out working alongside women, so it’s amazing to see her come full circle and see her grow on a larger scale like this. “

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She adds, “Specifically, the downtown women only supported and encouraged me, and they really helped me get to where I am now. They continually offer so much advice and hope. I have learned and worked closely with downtown business women like Kelly Chesney, Angie Spachman and Amanda Meier and they have been my biggest inspiration. Now to be able to start and grow my business alongside Ashley Jackson and Michelle Harrison is a total blessing.

Bill Clow, director of business engagement for the Greater Freeport Partnership, said he was delighted to see the number of people choosing to locate their businesses in Freeport and Stephenson County.

“This reflects the qualities that make this region a fertile ground for entrepreneurship, including the reasonable cost of doing business, affordable real estate, caring leaders and organizations such as the Greater Freeport Partnership,” he said. -he declares. “We are also thrilled to see the number of women and people of color pursuing their entrepreneurial dreams. The more our business community reflects our entire community, the stronger Freeport and Stephenson County will be. “

Cal Wescott, who has operated Rite-Way Furniture & Appliance in downtown Freeport for 30 years, is among the many men who are business owners. Wescott said, “I always enjoy welcoming new businesses to historic downtown Freeport, and we look forward to working with these women to make them successful.”

Jane Lethlean is a freelance correspondent.

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