Heart of the Entrepreneur: Jenny Torrence
Megan Martin Photographie | Photographer
Jenny Torrence believes in the NOTO Arts District and puts in long hours to prove it. She is the entrepreneur behind four businesses in three buildings she owns in the district.
Torrence has always been in sales, working for herself as a direct sales marketer for Mary Kay and Passion Parties. Three years ago that entrepreneurial spirit found a place to take root in the growing NOTO Arts District. The area had struggled for years, but that did not scare Torrence.
“I think that I love a challenge. I love to take something that people say can’t happen and make it happen,” Torrence said.
Torrence got into the brick-and-mortar business by chance—or Serendipity. She ran into a colleague at a networking event. They started talking about how they both saw a need for Topeka to have a new events space.
It was a “whim” that turned into reality in just a couple of days. A building for sale in North Topeka appeared to be an ideal location for their idea. The area had just begun attract arts shops and to have events anchored around Topeka’s First Friday Art Walks. For Torrence, the set-up was perfect. She bought the building and partnered with her sister and two friends. Just more than a month later, Serendipity hosted its first wedding.
At the time Torrence purchased the building for Serendipity, she asked the owner for an option to buy two other buildings attached to the location if they ever went up for sale. Torrence figured after Serendipity got on its feet, she might try something else in a couple of years.
It was a “back-of-the-mind” five-year plan, but the opportunity to expand came just a couple of months later. Torrence was so convinced that the NOTO area was going to be a success, she dove in with both feet and purchased the two buildings to the north of the Serendipity site.
Torrence, who loves to travel, decided to create the kinds of shops that she would want to visit on vacation.
“When you go into these little destination towns, there are always certain things that the towns have,” Torrence said.
She has studied other businesses in other parts of the country to see what is working. Now, she’s trying them in NOTO. Alongside Serendipity, Torrence created what she calls a “funky burrito joint” named NOTO Burrito. It offers gourmet burritos with flair and also caters and hosts live music events. Pinkadilly is an upscale home accessory shop that features vintage, new and repurposed items. Gravity Gallery is more of a gift shop featuring clothing and creations from local artists. She opened all the shops within a year.
“It’s really busy. I work a lot, but it had to be done,” Torrence said. “It was best for NOTO. Those places could not stay empty.”
Burgeoning Business The investment appears to be paying off as business in NOTO grows. When Serendipity opened, there were just a few NOTO Arts district shops. Now more than 30 businesses operate in the area. Shop times have expanded too, from the once-a-month First Friday events to most businesses open several days a week all month long.
Torrence grew up in Topeka, but does not remember the NOTO area from her childhood. What she does remember is her dad, a veterinarian, showing her the advantages of being in business for herself.
“My dad always said it’s better to be your own boss,” Torrence said.
As an entrepreneur, Torrence says the NOTO experience has taught her the importance of supporting local businesses. As a brick-and-mortar business owner, she now understands how that locally spent dollar pays back the whole city.
“You’re supporting people you know. I have all local printers, window washers, attorneys, accountants,” Torrence said.
Community Pride The First Friday Art Walks continue to be successful in NOTO, but Torrence believes many people in Topeka have still not tried it, or are not aware of how quickly the district has grown. She says the district has had some challenges overcoming the history of the area, but Torrence believes her business model works if NOTO continues to grow in popularity as a destination.
“I wouldn’t change a thing; I love NOTO,” Torrence said. “You just see a community working together, focused on making it happen. We have just as many cool things in Topeka as anywhere else, if people just explore them.”