Just two streets over from her childhood home in southeast Gainesville, Keisha McArthur runs Diva Kouture Boutique, a women’s fashion shop filled with bright pink walls, hand-selected clothing and colorful accessories.
It is one of the only fashion shops available in that part of town, according to the 47-year-old business owner, and it meets a need for women of all shapes and skin colors who want a unique outfit that won’t accidentally twin with something from a national chain at the mall.
But McArthur’s success is not just in boosting her customers’ confidence. As a Black female entrepreneur, her business inspires girls and women of color and fills a niche in the community that larger, more distant stores do not.
“One of my biggest goals was not only have my own boutique, but I would definitely love to open my business where I came from,” McArthur said. “And the significance is major because as a young Black girl, you’re always under the impression of ‘I can’t, I can’t, I can’t,’ or, ‘It’ll fail. I won’t get to support.’ But the upside of that is you can, and when you do it, it is successful.”
McArthur’s boutique has been open for three years at its current brick-and-mortar location, and it operated fully online for five years prior, she said. It is just one example of a local establishment that has survived the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic turmoil and is welcoming customers with open arms for this year’s Small Business Saturday, a national shopping holiday observed the day after Black Friday to help small businesses and communities thrive.
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Staci Bertrand, vice president of economic development with the Greater Gainesville Chamber, said small businesses make up about 80% of the chamber’s membership. Many of them took a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown, and some closed permanently.
“Our small businesses were extremely challenged during the pandemic,” she said. “Their customer base, a lot of the customers, were not shopping, were not going out. There was a huge reduction in revenue.”
But thanks to loans and quick adaptation, Bertrand said, companies have survived. And some are even thriving now better than pre-pandemic.
In 2020, the chamber launched “31 Days of Shop GNV” during the holiday season to feature and promote local businesses and special deals through late November and most of December. The campaign will happen again this year, Bertrand said, but details are not yet finalized.
To help support Gainesville’s small enterprises, she suggested purchasing gift cards from shops as presents and remembering that not all local businesses have physical locations. You can shop online and still buy local, Bertrand said.
Dwan Courtney, director of the University of Florida’s Small Business and Supplier Diversity department, is another leader in Gainesville who helps identify, promote and develop small businesses. Prior to joining UF, she worked as small, minority and veteran business procurement program coordinator for the City of Gainesville.
Courtney said it is important to intentionally spend your dollars with small businesses not just through the pandemic but because they create a number of benefits for the local community, such as improving Gainesville’s economy, creating more jobs and meeting niche needs. Those funds also help boost the business owners’ dreams, family and creativity, which just add more value to Gainesville, she said. In that way, you do more than just buy a product, service or experience.
Supporting minority-owned small businesses, like shops led by Black, Hispanic, LGBTQ+, veteran and female entrepreneurs, also helps build sustainable and equitable communities where access to resources, opportunities and growth is fair, Courtney said.
“As we are intentionally spending our dollars with the small business owners, it has this cyclical effect of just producing such positivity with that business and within our economies because we’re keeping our dollars within our community rather than sending [them] away,” she said. “Instead of going outside our community, let’s just look at what we have here.”
Courtney also recommended purchasing gift cards to help small businesses and added that feedback, like reviews, comments and questions online, can go a long way.
Small business owners on the importance of shopping local
Here is more about McArthur’s boutique, three other woman-owned small businesses in Gainesville and how the local community can help support them this holiday season:
Diva Kouture Boutique
Location: 2307 SE Hawthorne Road in Gainesville, online at divakoutureboutique.com
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Contact: 352-792-6288, [email protected]
Offers: clothing and accessories
McArthur said she has always loved fashion, be it watching her mother get dolled up or taking a class on the subject in high school or now running her own boutique. Owning the store has been a journey, especially through COVID-19 with limited inventory access and having to do more business online. But it’s also been a blessing, she said, because she can meet and connect with many different women and actually make a difference in their lives.
“I’ve been blessed,” she said. “I’m a happy brown girl.”
How to support: Shop in person or online during the boutique’s Black Friday sale, which offers all clearance for $10, or give feedback, a share or review online, McArthur said.
SVN (sev-n) Degree Candle Company
Location: online at svndegreecandles.com
Contact: [email protected]
Offers: candles in jars; candles in wooden dough bowls and wax melts
Amanda Tinker launched SVN Degree Candle Company in October 2020 after a bad breakup. The 25-year-old felt she needed to do something for herself, she said, so she decided to turn her creativity, passion and joy into an online store making candles for others.
“Being able to build something from scratch and do it completely myself and learn the ins and outs of a whole new business, a whole new market was something that motivated me immensely,” Tinker said. “It’s been very rewarding.”
Tinker, who was born and raised in Gainesville and is on her way to becoming a middle school teacher, first started her candle shop in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic on Etsy, an e-commerce company that focuses on handmade and vintage items. Her own storefront website came next, and the young business owner said she dreams of opening a physical store where people can buy her products and make their own.
But not everyone has the resources to start with a brick-and-mortar location, Tinker said, and that doesn’t mean small online business owners are not working very hard or still making quality products and services.
“We shouldn’t overlook them just because we can’t see them,” she said. “Those should definitely still be appreciated.”
Tinker, who is African American, also spoke on the importance of supporting minority-owned businesses. Just a few generations ago, she said, Black people were not given the opportunity to succeed and grow financially.
“So now, with there being such an increase in minority-owned businesses, why not support them so that they can flourish and have things to pass on?,” she said. “Minorities haven’t really had a fair chance.”
How to support: Tinker said for anyone who wants to buy her products online, she will be having a 15% off sale on Small Business Saturday. Advice and scent ideas are also welcome via the company’s instagram direct messages, she said.
Location: 3739 W. University Ave. in Gainesville, online at plantstay.com
Hours: Open daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Contact: 352-400-4757, [email protected]
Offers: indoor plants; planters; soil; tools; accessories; workshops, advice and more
Bren Strickland, a 43-year-old mother and life-long plant lover, has lived in Gainesville for about 10 years. The Puerto Rican business director opened Plantstay in Gainesville on Sept. 3, 2020, after toying with the idea of starting her own houseplant shop for some time, Strickland said.
She thought she might have to delay her business start because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But when gardening increased in popularity as many people stayed home and looked for quarantine hobbies, Strickland said, the industry exploded, and her store has been so successful that a second location is already in the works.
“It’s far exceeded our expectations,” she said. “We’ve been very, very fortunate.”
Running a business online and in-person through the pandemic has had its challenges, though. Supply chain issues and inventory shortages made sourcing things like soil components and new plants difficult, she said. Since the store restocks weekly, Strickland’s team routinely visits at least 10 different nurseries in Florida to select products by hand.
The business director said she hopes Plantstay can be a strong community hub. Every Monday, a portion of proceeds are collected to give to local organizations, like Grace Marketplace. The store also offers a variety of creative workshops and sells goods made by local artists, such as earrings and DIY plant hanger kits. Strickland added that she loves to give advice to and answer questions from people needing help getting their plants to thrive, especially beginners.
“I just think that the more we invest in our local community, the stronger it is,” she said.
How to support: Strickland said Plantstay will have a rare plant hault and 60% off sale on select planters for Small Business Saturday. She also said purchasing gift cards is a good way to help not jut her businesses but other small businesses in the Gainesville area as well this holiday season.
Corks & Colors Studio
Location: 3415 W. University Ave. in Gainesville, online at corkscolors.com
Hours: Sunday and Wednesday from noon to 6 p.m., Thursday-Saturday from noon to 9 p.m.
Contact: 352-373-8847, [email protected]
Offers: Pottery, canvas and wine glass painting; mosaics; canvas painting and pottery wheel classes; birthdays and group events, with alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages available
Erika Tonnelier bought Corks & Colors Studio from its previous owners in the mid 2010s after working there while going to school at UF. Taking on the popular art studio was a challenge, the 28-year-old Gainesvillian said, but one she was ready for and interested in undertaking as a young, female entrepreneur.
Tonnelier said the studio’s space and activities form a creative atmosphere that anyone can benefit from. From a date night to alone time to kids’ camp to professional team building exercises, they serve as a much-needed outlet, especially amid the national decline of arts education.
“It’s like therapy,” the business owner said. “It’s just good for us as humans, even if you’re not great at it.”
Through the pandemic, there were a few months where the studio scraped by and broke even, Tonnelier said. But now, as people come out in droves making up for lost time, she said, revenue is back up.
The business owner encouraged people to use Small Business Saturday as an entry point to visit and boost local enterprises, but she cautioned not to stop after the 24 hours are up. Money spent with small businesses is more effectively used and focused in the community, she said, especially when owners create a trusting space where people can grow and make new friends.
“It’s a nice starting point, foot in the door,” Tonnelier said. “But we need more than one day a year.”
How to support: Tonnelier said word of mouth in-person and online would help support her and the studio. She encouraged people to come in, say something and share the experience.
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