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Opinion: Women’s Day Downtown recognizes key role in development

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The second annual Women’s Day Downtown spotlighted more than 70 women-owned businesses and organizations on April 13. It celebrated how women entrepreneurs make downtown a better place through their creativity, intellect and empathy.  

Here are five key takeaways from the event:

  1. Power in numbers. The number of downtown women-led businesses by industry is impressive: 18 restaurants/bars, 18 professional services firms, 16 retail shops and 20 nonprofits. The numbers don’t tell the whole story as many are master classes in collaboration:

Formed: An Artist Collective features more than 40 artists and successfully expanded into a second storefront across the street with Forming Studios, where they offer classes and open studio space. Similarly, Fresh Gallery includes more than 20 artists and will turn 15 years old this year. 

The Holland Building, managed by Christine Newberry, features 10 women-owned businesses and a wide variety of services. including photography, salons and retail. The office building was recently recognized by Joe Minicozzi from Urban3 as the commercial property with the best return on investment in all of Springfield.

The Wellness Collective, founded in 2012 by Amy Reaves and expanded into a renovated facility at Campbell Avenue and McDaniel Street in 2022, offers a community of majority female wellness professionals and a full range of classes and services.

  1. Leading by example. Beyond the number of businesses, women are in key leadership roles for downtown.

Barb Baker, Downtown Springfield Community Improvement District manager, has been serving the district for 27 years. Her dedication to the downtown community is significant and cannot be ignored.

Erica Smith of FORVIS LLP is the current president of the Downtown Springfield Association, and she succeeded Caitlin Golike from Community Foundation of the Ozarks Inc. Amanda Ohlensehlen, director of Economic Vitality for the city of Springfield, also serves on the DSA and C-Street Community Improvement District boards.

Paula Adams was named president of Penmac Staffing in 2006 and is on the board of nine organizations in southwest Missouri, including serving as the Image Enhancement chair for the Downtown Springfield CID. In 2019, Adams was named the Springfield Business Journal’s Economic Impact Community Champion.

Joselyn Baldner is Central Bank’s first female CEO and president. She recently completed her year as chair of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce board and is the current president of the Downtown Council of Champions. Central Bank came on as presenting sponsor of Women’s Day Downtown in 2024. 

  1. Building on traditions. Women owners value the deep roots their businesses have in downtown and are finding new ways to keep them competitive in 2024.

Sisters Kelle Rathe and Kaleen Long drew on family heritage to create J.L. Long Traders. The store at 318 W. Walnut St. resides in the same building where their great-great-grandfather operated J.L. Long and Sons Furniture Co. in 1903. The store offers a range of unique items but maintains their legacy by also selling vintage furniture.

Sakiko Kong and her husband, Scott, operate The Riksha at Boonville Avenue and Olive Street. They purchased the 30-year-old Chinese restaurant from Scott’s uncle in 2021 and have continued to have it be a family affair.

Anne Baker of Civil Kitchen, Finnegan’s Wake and Tinga Tacos partnered with Nicole Brown of MudLounge to purchase J.O.B. Public House. It recently reopened to keep alive the Springfield favorites from that downtown legend Danny Schlink cultivated over 20 years.

  1. Diversifying tastes. Women are also at the forefront of expanding downtown’s food scene.

Uliana Komodi and Khrystyna Savva opened European Cafe in 2013 in the Holland Building on Park Central East. They built on that success by expanding next door with Rise breakfast cafe in 2021. They are proud to say that both restaurants are running on roughly 70% girl power, in an industry that is predominantly male.

Tonisha Manier opened Mimi’s Soul Food at Kimbrough Avenue and Cherry Street as a tribute to her grandmother. Just a couple of years old, the menu specializes in Southern-style dishes she enjoyed growing up.

Sisters Carol and Susan McLeod opened Hold Fast Brewing in 2019 at the former fire station at Kimbrough Avenue and Trafficway Street. They are one of the 3% of breweries across the country to have female ownership and brewmasters.

  1. Making room for more. At a Women’s Day Downtown reception at Hold Fast April 11, the camaraderie of the group was overflowing. A significant reason why these women entrepreneurs chose to locate downtown was to be a part of a community. Just as there were a few more seats at the table that evening, they would be quick to welcome new retailers, restaurants and services to be an integral part of downtown Springfield.

Rusty Worley is the executive director of the Downtown Springfield Association. He can be reached at rusty@itsalldowntown.com.

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