Photos by RACHEL LOCK PHOTOGRAPHY
The six stores that make up the 21st and Belle Shops each have their own unique story. Some have been there for nearly 14 years, others for as little as three months, but they have one thing in common: they are all owned or operated by women. Even though these stores all operate individually, the women who own them work as a team. They encourage each other, complement each other, and look for ways to help each other be successful.
LINDA'S HOME AND GARDEN At the south end of the shopping center is Linda’s Home and Garden, offering a wide variety of items such as handbags, jewelry, watches, home and garden decor, and other outdoor garden items. Kim Swick manages the family-owned business. Linda’s Home and Garden, named after Swick’s mother, Linda, opened its doors at the 21st and Belle Shops in 2003. Before that, Swick’s parents had been in the antique business for 35 years.
Swick has traveled with her parents all over the United States doing trade shows. They participate in six shows a year. Although Swick is on the road quite a b it, she still has time to connect to her Topeka customers.
“You get connected and attached to your customers and they become like family,” Swick said. “One of the most fun things about this business is the interesting people you meet. It takes a long time to build your trade and it can be tough at times.”
Swick says she never felt any limitations from being a woman-owned business.
“I’ve always had a very strong mother, and my dad has always been very supportive. I was raised that you can do anything you want, and just because you are a woman doesn’t mean that it is going to slow you down,” Swick said.
LONG LIGHTING STUDIO Another woman business owner going full steam ahead is Kellie Long, owner of Long Lighting Studio. Long has been in Topeka for 16 years and has been at the 21st and Belle location for a little over three years. Long’s family has been in the lighting business since 1943, making her a third-generation lighting storeowner.
“I grew up in the lighting service and swore I wasn’t going to do it! Everyone in my family except for two cousins are either electricians or in the building field of some kind,” Long said.
Even though she swore she wouldn’t sell lighting, Long obviously enjoys what she does and appreciates working with the other store owners in the shopping center.
“I love what I do and I love it when my customers come back in and say, ‘you did my house five years ago and I still love everything we did!’ There is a lot of personal pride in that and it’s fun to see my employees enjoy that too,” Long said.
Besides the camaraderie between the ladies of the other stores, Long said she loves the 21st and Belle location because of the opportunity to do things as a shopping center.
One successful event is the Annual Girls’ Christmas Gala held in the months of November and December. The Gala has been quite successful in raising money for the Helping Hands Humane Society. Long says she hopes to do more fund raising events geared toward charities that help women.
Long says it nice to know that support and encouragement are just down the sidewalk because the other business owners in the shopping center understand the complex issues that come with being women.
“I think that is such a unique draw that we are all women in business and that we can still be successful and still manage families and all the other demands,” Long said.
STYLIN' HAIR STUDIO Tammy Ridgway, owner of Stylin’ Hair Studio, also appreciates the support she receives from the other storeowners in the shopping center. Ridgway purchased the salon three years ago. Stylin’ Hair Studio is a full-service salon that provides haircuts, styling and color, manicures, pedicures, spray tans, waxing, and makeovers for special events. The salon employs seven stylists who either work on commission or rent their space.
Ridgway worked as a hairstylist on commission for 16 1/2 years. When the opportunity to buy Stylin' Hair Studios arose, she jumped on the chance to own her own business.
“I was actually in between jobs and looking to put a salon in my home when I got a phone call that the studio was for sale,” Ridgway said. “It just fell into my lap.”
Owning your own business can be difficult, but Ridgway says her transition to ownership has gone well.
“I love it! It’s nice to be my own boss. I have made great friendships with these ladies and there is so much support from everyone,” Ridgway said.
Ridgway said her stylists encourage their customers to visit the other stores in the shopping center in between services.
LAZIO'S COFFEE BAR AND ROASTERIE One of those stores would be Lazio’s Coffee Bar and Roasterie, owned by Betsy Wunder. Having been located at the 21st and Belle Shops for 14 years, Lazio’s is one of the oldest shops in the center. Serving espresso and fresh brewed coffee, Lazio’s roasts all its own coffee in house and serves a variety of pastries, sandwiches and quiches.
Wunder says being in business for 14 years has allowed her to not only build relationships with her customers, but also watch her customers build relationships among themselves as well.
“We have a lot of the same people that have come in for years,” Wunder said. “We have become so attached to so many people that the thought of not doing this is just really difficult. They have become like family.”
Wunder said she also enjoys the relationships she has built with the other storeowners in the shopping center. They all appreciate the balancing act each of them has to do as women business owners.
“I’ve seen all the changes over the years,” Wunder said. “This is a nice group that we have here now. The businesses we have in this strip feed off of each and complement each other really well. Every one is very thoughtful of each others businesses.”
JESS & ROSIE'S Ann O’ Bryan, owner of Jess & Rosie’s, said being woman-owned helps their vibe in the community.
“People enjoy supporting not only locally owned, but women owned businesses, “O’Bryan said. “We all get along and we try to help each other and I think part of that is because we are all chicks!”
Jess & Rosie’s is a women’s clothing boutique that also sells Brighton jewelry, TOMS shoes, fun accessories, custom made wooden and metal signs and a candle line made out of recycled wine and beer bottles. O’ Bryan and business partner, Todd May, used to own Boutique ten47 at 10th and Gage. When they moved to the 21st and Belle Shops three years ago because of a need for bigger space and more drive-by traffic, they renamed the boutique Jess & Rosie’s after their grandparents.
O’Bryan says she wants her customers to feel good about their purchases and about themselves.
“I believe the way you feel in your clothes changes your attitude. I want to be able to help people look and feel their best,” O ‘Bryan said.
O’Bryan says that desire to offer customers the best possible experience is part of what makes the 21st and Belle Shops special because every store owner in the shopping center shares that same attitude.
When a space became available in the shopping center, the existing business owners wanted to ensure that the synergy they had established would carry on. So they took it upon themselves to fill the vacant space—with another woman-owned business.
INTERIOR DESIGN RESOURCES The newest addition to the 21st and Belle shops is Interior Design Resources, which opened its doors in November. Jennifer Metzger--Fine Design Studio, Jan Hutt--Jan Hutt Interiors, and Leslie Hunsicker--Leslie Hunsicker Interiors established Interior Design Resources as a resource to other interior designers. Membership gives interior designers a place to meet with clients and access to product samples and other resources they can share with their clients.
The concept for Interior Design Resources began when Metzger, who has been in interior design for 23 years, wanted to expand her studio from Lawrence to Topeka.
“Interior designers go as far as Kansas City to check out samples and other products to show their clients,” Metzger said. “Topeka is just far enough away from Kansas City that I felt interior designers needed a similar type of showroom here. Showrooms like this cost money and if we group together we can help each other by sharing the cost.”
Hutt has been in the interior design business for nearly 40 years and has seen the transitions in interior design over the years.
“There used to be free standing designer stores spread out all over the city and there just aren’t any more. This is a new concept to share the cost,” Hutt said.
Hutt and Hunsicker have been working with each other for many years. Hunsicker, who has been an interior decorator for 29 years and has worked out of her home since 2002, sees this the new space at the 21st and Belles shops as a great opportunity.
“Women chat and talk between themselves and since the stores at 21st and Belle has mostly women clientele, I think it will be a benefit to all of us,” Hunsicker said.
The women of the 21st and Belle shops know that success is something that requires hard work. That’s why each storeowner appreciates having other women-owned shops close by to support, encourage and help each other along the way.