Entrepreneurs: Women start businesses despite tough economy

July 2009 Posted in Business

By Linda Whitmore

Three women are defying cautionary warnings of negative economic conditions and jumping headlong into new endeavors in Mt. Angel and Silverton. Two of the entrepreneurs bring years of business experience and one is fulfilling a dream.

The Green Store

Michelle Fenney is one who not only has operated businesses before, but has taught others how to succeed. Last month, she opened The Green Store as a coalition of merchants offering a wide variety of sustainable and recycled goods. 

The Green Store
201 E. Main St.
(The Wolf Building)

“This is not a consignment model; it’s people who are doing business within this (ecological) environment,” Fenney said. 

Fenney and her husband, Monte, moved to Silverton last October and right away began going to Chamber of Commerce and Silverton Together meetings. Everywhere, she said, Fenney heard the same concerns – merchants said local residents head to Salem or Portland for things they could have bought in town, and residents said they had to go out of town because what they needed wasn’t available locally.

Fenney herself had experienced both sides of the issue. She left town to find things – traveling to Eugene for ecologically sound soap and cleaning products that she later learned were available at the Natural Health Store in Silverton – and she searched locally to find zero VOC paint to decorate her shop, but no one stocked it so she had to get it in Salem.

Part of the problem is a matter of inadequate marketing, Fenney said. “Sometimes business owners are afraid of advertising, so people don’t know what they have.”

So at The Green Store, Fenney works hand-in-glove with other merchants who sell “green” products. For a monthly fee they can sell items in her shop and post information about their businesses and classes they offer.

While more such liaisons are formulating, currently Melissa Pedigo displays her jewelry, Sarra Hozen is bringing in children’s clothing and home décor from Boonya’s Butterfly and Treasures, and information about her interior decorating services. Mt. Angel Sausage plans to offer in its frozen, nitrate-free sausages; Susan Parker will sell healthful, frozen soups from her Soup Shack; the Natural Health Store will provide healthful snacks as well as cleaning products; Mary James will display samples of shades and blinds from M James Window Fashions and offer classes on energy-saving window coverings.

The Green Store stocks a wide variety of merchandise. There are specialty mirrors and art glass; purses made from seat belts; aprons that once were blue jeans; sun hats and straw baskets; bamboo fabric clothing; embroidery art, and even 1,000 thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets. 

“I fell in love with Silverton and wanted to bring healthy, environmentally sound products,” Fenney said. She has been a shopkeeper in the past and for many years she and her husband operated a Salem Internet service provider and hosting company. They later expanded their business to become a drop-off eBay sales site.

“I worked with a lot of small businesses doing retail and Internet sales. I taught classes to help them sustain their businesses, develop marketing promotions and how to transition from brick-and-mortar store to utilizing the Internet – also how to use eBay,” she said. “My specialty was to teach small- and medium-size businesses how to do marketing and business management.” 

As for beginning a new enterprise in tough economic times, Fenney is optimistic. “I feel like I brought a lot of experience to the table.”

Main St. Styles

Experience is also key for Rhonda Grant who has opened a beauty salon and barbershop in Mt. Angel. She has been a hairdresser for 21 years, working in several West Coast cities. She too, is optimistic about starting a new business.

Main St. Styles
95 N. Main St.
Mt. Angel

“Getting a haircut is recession-free – people still want to look nice,” Grant said.

Grant’s husband, Justin, is the son of Mike and Mary Grant who relocated the Grant Construction Co. office and Rhonda saw the vacancy as at the old office as serendipitous. She was working at a barbershop in Canby and wanted to be closer to her Mt. Angel home to spend more time with her family – sons Kaleb, 17, a senior at Kennedy High; Jordan, 12, a seventh-grader at the middle school who has been battling a bone tumor; and daughter, Maggie, 2.

Grant was raised in Mt. Angel too. She had graduated from Kennedy High School and went on to beauty school in Salem. She married and was a hairdresser at military bases in Washington and California. Although she primarily did men’s haircuts, she also styled their families’ hair. She returned to Mt. Angel in 2003.

She said she loves doing haircuts and styling and keeps up with current trends by going to style shows. Hairdressers working in the shop with her are Ann Dixon and JoAnn Hartley. Grant and Dixon work “8 to 5ish,” and Hartley stays into the evenings Mondays through Wednesdays. The stylists are available for both walk-ins and appointments, she said. Saturday appointments can be arranged. 


Michele Deck is jumping in to business with a first-timer’s enthusiasm.

She may be a novice shop proprietor, but she has experience in sales. She and her daughter, Anita, have made jewelry for quite a while, selling their things at craft shows, retirement homes and Christmas bazaars. Combining their names – Me ‘n’ Nita, they came up with their business moniker, Mennita.

They are joined by elder daughter, Kristin, who admitted, “I never had the patience to sit and do jewelry.”

107 S First St.,
M-F 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
Saturdays 10 – 4

While Kristin might be at the cash register, Michele and Anita are often in the back room making beaded necklaces, bracelets and earrings. Anita also sews sundresses and aprons and paints flower pots.

“We kind of do everything together,” said Michele, who until recently had been a registered nurse. “I took a year off to rethink,” she said. “I was more tired than I realized.”

It was during this respite that she and Anita began selling their wares at shows. 

“We were really doing quite well,” Michele said. They began to dream of having a storefront, and really liked the vacant First Street shop.

With faith in God’s guidance, she met with the building owner and “everything fell into place,” Kristin said. “It was perfect. We decided we have to do it.” She added, “This is a great town to do business in.”

In addition to their hand-made articles, the women sell glassware Michele has collected at estate sales, candles from Tundra of Portland; and lots of articles from etsy.com, a coalition of artisans. They also have consigners who make and supply girls’ dresses, paintings, wire-weaved baskets and wind chimes and floral arrangements.

“I try to keep the prices really low because I really believe everyone should be able to buy something really nice,” Michele said. “If you can keep our costs down, you can make it.”

Jumping into business has been exhilarating. “It’s one of the biggest adventures in life – right up there with getting married and buying a home,” Michele said. “I’m happy how it turned out.”

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