By Tiffany Rider - Senior Writer
July 17, 2012 - Local women entrepreneurs are making strides in growing their businesses, innovating new ways to keep their doors open and their customers happy.
This is the third in a series of profiles on women business owners in Long Beach/Signal Hill, focusing on a segment of U.S. businesses that would have the fifth largest gross domestic product in the world if they were their own country, according to a 2009 economic impact report by the Center for Women’s Business Research (CWBR), located in McLean, Virginia.
Several local women business owners expressed their concerns with the state of the economy. Those concerns are reflected in the fourth “Key4Women Confidence Index,” prepared by CWBR. The index, which was launched in April 2009, had shown a general increase in optimism until the fall of 2010. The optimism level, determined by surveying women business owners about their expectations in the next six months, decreased significantly from 53.7 percent in October 2009 to 33.3 percent in November 2010.
“When asked (in open-ended fashion) the single most important problem facing their businesses, respondents replied: lack of demand in the form of lack of new business; reduced sales and maintaining existing clients; and cash flow issues,” according to a statement from the center.
Even with those challenges, local women in business are focused on: maintaining a healthy work-family balance; holding on to what they have with hope of stronger economic recovery; improving and/or expanding products and customer service; and participating in “shop local” campaigns to encourage residents to patronize their neighborhood establishments. Here are their stories.
100 Oceangate, Suite 1450
Christiane Tomasi is a self-made woman. Born in Beruit, Lebanon, she has been supporting herself since age 17 and put herself through undergraduate and graduate school.
“The desire to work for myself was the result of my first corporate job where I worked so hard and I became unhappy because nobody noticed,” Tomasi revealed. “I started my business out of a home office [in 1995] and built it slowly and cultivated it carefully through client referrals. I wanted only clients that I would like to work with because I love my work and wanted to continue to love it.”
Tomasi has a bachelor’s degree in accounting from California State University, Northridge, and a master’s degree in taxation from USC. She is also a certified financial planner and holds various certificates in securities.
Tomasi leased office space downtown in 1998. She incorporated in 2000. The company offers investment services, financial planning and insurance products, as well as small business accounting, payroll services and tax preparation. “Clients who started with me back in 1995 are still with me today,” Tomasi said. “We now have hundreds of clients, individuals and small businesses, who are happy to be with us and we are happy to have them.”
The wealth management arm of her business is LPL Financial, Member Financial Industry Regulatory Authority/Securities Investor Protection Corporation, at which she is an independent advisor. “I got into the wealth management business thanks to one of my clients, Tomasi said. “I had mentioned that I found the stock market interesting and enjoyed investing on a personal level. She simply asked why don’t you do this for us. And I thought: why not? So I went for it.”
Tomasi’s biggest challenge is finding the right people and expanding her staff. She currently has five employees and would like to double that number. “Growing our business means that we need to let go of the reins and release control. That is the tough part, trusting that an employee is going to take as good care of your clients as you do, who has the necessary skills to do so and then finding that person in multiples.”
216 The Promenade North, Suite 206
Interior designer, product stylist, public speaker, instructor – Joen Garnica said she can do it all because she realizes that the biggest challenge for any business is oneself.
“I think sometimes we get in the way of our own success by perhaps not being resourceful, perhaps being intimidated or not as confident,” Garnica said. “What helps me is chatting with colleagues, respected professionals and friends in a variety of industries, to loosen things up in the brain. I think you learn to do this over time, but I also come from a very strong, resourceful and fighting spirit from my mom. I grew up not really knowing what roadblocks were because there was always a way to get it done. I live that practically every day.”
A Long Beach native, Garnica said she has been in the visual industry since high school and was able to make her passion for design into a career when she opened Garnica Interiors in 2003. She holds a merchandising and marketing degree from the Fashion Design Institute of Merchandising in Los Angeles and gained experience as a visual merchandiser for McDonnell-Douglas prior to starting her own business.
Garnica Interiors is a full service interior design firm that caters to commercial and residential clients, offering anything from a consultation across the full spectrum to new builds or complete remodels. On construction projects, Garnica works very closely with the builder and the architect, planning every detail of the project down to the knobs and light fixtures.
Garnica’s approach for residential projects is making sure that, at the end of the day, the homeowner and/or family is happy with the space and that it reflects the personality and lifestyle of its dwellers. Similarly, Garnica works with commercial clients to create a space the company is happy with, but also designs an interior that may help increase the business’ bottom line. “Fortunately or unfortunately – I haven’t figured this out yet – we are judged by what we put forward,” Garnica said. “It is important that the space reflect the company’s talents correctly.”
Garnica currently serves on the board of directors for the Long Beach Day Nursery near the Washington area of Long Beach, where she grew up. She said it is important to give back to her community, and has worked with Habitat for Humanity by offering pro bono design services for some of the homes the organization has built in the area.
3940 E. 4th St.
Jennifer Perez celebrates a decade in business this year as the owner of the indoor plantscaping franchise Growing Roots, LLC. She expanded the business and has franchises in La Jolla and Lawrenceville, Georgia.
Exploring her roots, Perez recalled that her grandparents on both sides of her family, originally from Puerto Rico, were farmers. “Growing up, they always had beautiful gardens, and always had beautiful indoor plants,” Perez said. “[Gardening] was something I always did with my grandparents and, as I got older, I would do my own gardening and have my own plants inside my own home. It was just a hobby, like it is to so many other people.”
That hobby helped lead her to indoor plantscaping. “I love the fact that we are bringing nature indoors and beautifying indoor spaces; it’s healthy,” Perez said. “Plants are indoor air filters. They are working 24 hours a day, pulling all of those toxins into the leaves and breaking them down to turn them into food and then releasing clean oxygen. They also help stabilize humidity levels indoors, in the same way.”
Growing Roots provides sales, leasing, design, installation and maintenance of indoor plants and accessories like containers and water features, as well as some container gardening and patioscaping, for both residential and commercial clients. Growing Roots serves clients from San Juan Capistrano up to Pasadena, with the bulk of the business-to-business networking referrals happening in Long Beach.
With the economy today, a lot of people are cutting back on expenses, Perez said, so her biggest challenge is changing the perception that having indoor plants is a luxury. “I want people to look at it as a health benefit because it does work for you. A lot of people will switch to silk plants and artificial plants. Really, those are just dust collectors.”
Perez is a member of the Long Beach Executives, the U.S. Green Building Council’s Long Beach chapter and the Sustainable Business Council of Los Angeles. Her business was the first indoor plant company in California to become green certified through the state’s program that recognizes businesses that operate in an environmentally-friendly manner.
5000 E. Spring St., Suite 120
Joan Ostrander may have been destined to maintain a career in escrow services in Long Beach.
She started her career in 1968 at Farmers & Merchants Bank in Downtown Long Beach, working as a part-time teller and in a secretarial position for one of the bank’s owners. She soon asked if she could have the opportunity to work with the escrow company the bank had at the time as a backup officer. “I fell in love with escrow,” she said.
After F&M Bank, Ostrander was employed with an office of Anna Roh Escrow, which had 10 to 12 offices in the 1970s. She worked at the office located at 5000 E. Spring St., Suite 120.
In 1984, Anna Roh Escrow was sold to a new owner. “We were taken over,” Ostrander said. “[Soon] there were some problems with our trust funds with what the new owners were doing. I suspected something funny was going on, so I called the department of corporations. They came in and took over all the offices, and the new owner filed bankruptcy.” It what seemed like the end, Ostrander saw the loss as an opportunity to go out on her own.
When Ostrander discovered the lease for the office suite had not been renewed in two years, the property owners worked with her as she incorporated International City Escrow. “I never in the world would have thought I could own my own business,” she said.
Ostrander incorporated her business in 1985. The company has 15 employees, all of whom are escrow officers serving clients in both Los Angeles and Orange counties. “What makes us special is we do just about every type of escrow there is; not only real estate, but business opportunity and specialized escrow. “I have not laid anyone off, either. I kept all of my employees during the worst of times. Good employees are hard to get, and you can’t replace them once they’re gone.”
Ostrander said her biggest challenge is “establishing a good rapport with the various kinds of lending institutions that we are dealing with, with the banks that are doing the short sales, and – with the background and knowledge that I have – making recommendations that will make transactions work so that we can actually bring them to a close.”
3282 E. Willow St., Signal Hill
For 23 years, Kitchens by the Sea owner Edy Rabon has been providing kitchen and bath design services and general contracting to homeowners.
Rabon, who holds a bachelor’s degree in business management, said she learned the basics of kitchen and bath design and contracting while working for a company in the mid 1980s. In 1989, she and her husband opened Kitchens by the Sea near the Traffic Circle. “I decided that I needed to strike out on my own, so I got my own general contractor’s license, and I was already a certified kitchen designer,” Rabon said.
Kitchens by the Sea offers design and build services, and Rabon is a dealer for a national cabinet company. In 2009, Rabon moved the main office into Kitchens by the Sea’s existing warehouse and shop in Signal Hill, which had been used by the company from the beginning.
The economic slowdown has hurt the construction industry significantly, Rabon said, especially kitchen and bath remodeling or any interior remodeling, which is directly related to the housing industry. “When people’s homes are gaining money and they think they’re a good investment and they know that it is worth more than they paid for it, they are willing to invest money in upgrades and remodels and all of that,” she said. “When people are upside down on their houses, they are not going to pour any more money into them. So the construction industry has just been devastated.”
She added, “The first thing we lost were the young families whose houses were turned upside down. Suddenly, their $600,000 house is worth $300,000 or $400,000. We lost that whole group, but we still had the older people with money. Then the stock market took a dive. Now the people who did have a nice retirement cushion are holding on to that money because they’ve lost years of all of their interest and dividends. So the money they thought they might have for upgrading homes, they have to sit on and use for retirement.”
While times are tough, repeat clients and a positive reputation have kept Kitchens by the Sea in business, Rabon said. “We’ve been very grateful for the loyal clients over the years, who always come back.” For more information on Kitchens by the Sea, visit kitchensbythesea.com.
927 E. Broadway
Laura Osuna has taken her degree in interior architectural design, with a minor in chemistry, to create what she calls “the sweet life.”
Osuna, a licensed esthetician, opened La Dolce Vita Spa in 1997. She originally wanted to go into skincare as a hobby to take care of her own skin, but realized that her education, skills and passion were a natural fit for opening a spa. She remodeled the formerly abandoned building, using the skills she learned at California State University, Long Beach. There’s always construction going on to further develop the property, she said. Future plans include expanding into the 60 feet of airspace she owns above the building.
La Dolce Vita Spa offers a variety of facials, massage, manicures, pedicures, body scrubs and waxes. Osuna has traveled outside the U.S. to learn and incorporate international spa treatments at her business. She employs six people in her 3,000-square-foot spa, which also offers food catering services as well as glassware and flatware for clients who want to bring their own beverages and snack items.
Coming from a big family, Osuna said she has always felt comfortable hosting large events. La Dolce Vita Spa works with various corporate clients, such as the Hilton, Hyatt and, most recently, Habitat for Humanity, providing space for parties. “[Our spa] is pretty unique to Long Beach,” Osuna said. “There aren’t that many places that are this big. The space is as big as a six-bedroom home with a backyard. People come here and bring their families. They enjoy bridal showers, bachelorette parties, birthday parties and other larger occasions where people can get together, have spa services and visit each other at the same time.”
Right now her biggest challenge is bringing technology together. “Things that were on paper that were simple and easy to do now have become more difficult, and automating our appointment scheduling so our clients can make their appointments at 2 o’clock in the morning and then having it where all the staff is trained and getting things to be operating smoothly has been a challenge for this year,” Osuna said. “I should be finished with that by the fall.”
1 World Trade Center, 8th Floor
With years of experience as a journalist and public relations (PR) professional, Claudia Schou continues to grow her business out of her Downtown Long Beach office.
Schou, originally from the Inland Empire, attended San Francisco State University and completed most of her undergraduate studies in the Bay Area. She returned in the late 1990s and completed her degree at California State University, Fullerton, while working as a reporter for the Los Angeles Times.
“I was in my mid-20s, covering South Orange County. It was a great job,” Schou said. “But the Times had to make some layoffs. I had heard that the group I was in was the first to get cut.” She took a job with California Apparel News (CAN) in 2000 and stayed with the company for five years. Covering the factory beat, Schou found herself travelling nationally and internationally to cover stories.
Near the end of her employment with CAN, Schou and her husband decided they wanted to start a family but she couldn’t find a job in journalism near their home in Long Beach. By 2005, Schou decided she would transition into PR. “What I realized ultimately was that what I love about journalism the most was coming up with story ideas to pitch to my editor and then writing them,” Schou said. “Similarly, with public relations, you come up with story ideas but pitching many editors, not just one.”
She joined a PR firm in January 2006 and worked there for nearly a year before deciding to go out on her own. Media Boutique opened that same year.
Schou has grown her client base mostly by referrals, and earlier this year she had a career-defining moment: coordinating placement in the New York Times for Me-Ality, a body scanning service for clothes shopping. Major news networks picked up the story across the nation, allowing Schou to increase the scope of Media Boutique’s reach.
Schou’s biggest challenge is the economy. “Whenever the economy is affected, I notice that businesses are looking very closely at making cuts to save,” she said. “The first area that is usually cut is their marketing. That’s why I think a big part of my job is providing the client with constant updates on my progress and results. That’s hugely important for PR firms now, to be able to show how you can help a company grow and profit. It’s not just brand awareness, which is still a big part of it, but it’s showing your worth.”
6695 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., Suite 135
A tragedy in the life of Danielle Osterlind became a powerful motivating factor in her efforts to establish NOVUS Mindful Life Institute.
In 2005, Osterlind’s husband, Duane, a licensed marriage and family therapist, began treating people for substance abuse. At the core of every addiction case, he found, was some sort of sexual trauma, Osterlind said. The realization intrigued Duane, and he soon met certified sex addiction therapist Bill Feuerborn. They decided to partner, and Duane became certified in sex addiction therapy as well. “It is a huge issue that society hadn’t even begun to understand yet,” Osterlind said. “Pornography is available to everyone at unhealthful levels.”
At the time, Osterlind reported to the president of a major international cabinet company. She knew her husband was doing amazing work, but was not involved. In 2008, Osterlind became pregnant. Unfortunately, her daughter, Audrey, was born two months too soon. Audrey lived in an incubator for a week, but didn’t survive. Osterlind was able to hold Audrey for the last four hours of her life.
“In that four hours, I felt more beauty, more love and more wisdom than I had ever experienced,” Osterlind said. “After her death, we decided to live our best lives. We wanted to make her proud and to honor her. The best way we could do that is not to just crawl in a hole somewhere, but to love each other the best way we could.”
All of the sudden, cabinets became less important. “We decided we were going to build a business,” Osterlind said. “We were going to take that risk because that was what was truly in our hearts – to help people find joy and feeling again.”
The Osterlinds and Feuerborn co-founded NOVUS Mindful Life Institute in 2009. The institute, which employs five licensed therapists and pre-licensed interns, offers individual, couples and group counseling in porn addiction, sexual dysfunction, sexual anorexia, love addiction and sex addiction. “Everyone is allowed to be who they are, and we help them to be the best ‘me’ they can be,” Osterlind said. As executive director, Osterlind is responsible for office management, accounting, human resources, insurance billing, bookkeeping, marketing and more.
In 2010, Osterlind gave birth to a son, Dexter. “I love him with every molecule in the universe.” Today, Osterlind’s biggest challenge is constantly fighting the pressures of building a successfully functioning business that allows innovation, while balancing work and family.
5610 E. 2nd St.
Optometrist Dr. Lisa Hopkins has been interested in the science of the eye since she was about 10 years old – when she was prescribed eyeglasses.
“I always liked the science fields and I had been wearing glasses since 5th grade,” Hopkins said. “It was a medical visit that I was comfortable with, and I was always interested in my vision and sight. It was a good fit.”
Originally from North Dakota, Hopkins earned her undergraduate degree in science from the University of Minnesota, Moorhead, before applying to optometry school. She was accepted to Southern California College of Optometry in Fullerton in 1991, graduating four years later. She opened her business in Naples in March 1996.
The Optometry Offices employs two full-time opticians who have decades of industry experience. Under Hopkins, the office’s mission is to give clients top quality healthcare for a variety of services, including primary eye care for all ages, eye exams, ocular emergencies, conjunctivitis (pink eye), inflammatory issues, corneal ulcers and treatment for several eye-related medical conditions.
Hopkins also sells and fits sunglasses, eyeglasses and contact lenses, and she specializes in fitting rigid gas permeable contacts. “It’s for fitting a cornea or an eye that is just not healthy and can’t use soft lenses or even glasses,” Hopkins said. “Sometimes the rigid gas permeable contacts are the only option.” Anything outside of optometry services is referred out, she said.
With the struggling economy, maintaining the business has been more of a challenge, Hopkins said. “We’ve had to adjust our business plan and try to accommodate our patients,” she noted. “A lot of patients have been laid off, and if they haven’t been laid off then they’ve lost their insurance. Ultimately everyone needs to see, so we’ve been trying to work with everyone to afford healthcare, either with or without an insurance plan.”
Hopkins said her biggest challenge is waiting to see what will happen with optometry as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, is implemented. “It hasn’t been there long enough for us to know what’s going to happen with that, and we don’t know if a forced insurance plan on everyone is the way to go or how optometry will fit into that,” she said.
6473 E. Pacific Coast Hwy.
Using her life experience cooking for her family and a passion for mindful eating, Dalet Hamby opened her first restaurant, Roots Gourmet, in October 2010.
Hamby was born to a Spanish father and Mexican mother in Coronado and grew up in San Diego. After a career as a figure skater on the East Coast, she moved back to California and has been in Long Beach for nearly a decade. “I definitely love the area and the environment,” Hamby said. “It’s an eclectic little town, and I wouldn’t imagine having my first business anywhere else than Long Beach. It’s so welcoming and really fosters that sense of community.”
Hamby is on her third business venture with her mother, Norma Chavez. The two have a catering business with their family and started a mortgage company together. Chavez still owns the mortgage business as a broker and loan officer. Hamby is now fully focused on her restaurant with some assistance from her mother.
Hamby was vegan for five years and considers herself a “hardcore vegetarian” today. She collaborated with her mother to develop Roots Gourmet’s menu of Latin American recipes that are vegan and gluten-free. “We really pride ourselves in having homemade healthy items. . . .We cook with our eyes, our hands and our taste buds,” Hamby said. “Our recipes have a lot of Latin American undertones from our family; we just jazzed them up. We also have a lot of items for non-vegetarians, those meat eaters, as well, such as sandwiches and whatnot.”
This summer, Roots Gourmet will unveil a revamped menu. “We are going to keep the items that have been so successful, and we have been listening to our clients and the community, so we will add 10 or 15 new items that they want, which are going to be more vegan and gluten-free,” Hamby said.
Her biggest business challenge is balance. “We live in a society where there is so much opportunity for women to grow and flourish and shine, but we’ve gone through this transition over the last 50 or 60 years where our roles have changed,” Hamby said. “My challenge with my business is finding balance and being able to go back to my roots – who I am – and make time for my family, love, health, friends and the things that are the most important to me.”
6148 Long Beach Blvd.
New business owner Sally Bevans decided to open Sal’s Gumbo Shack after discovering a passion for catering for friends and family. The business officially opened May 3, 2012.
Bevans, who has always been the cook of the family, learned how to cook gumbo about 22 years ago. A woman from Louisiana that she worked with gave Bevans a recipe for the Southern stew. “I made my first pot, and it was a hit. My family and friends all loved it. I’ve been cooking it ever since,” she said. “I’ve perfected it over the years. The rue is very important when you’re making gumbo.” Sal’s also offers Louisiana cuisine like catfish plates and po’boy sandwiches.
Bevans was working as a freight-forwarding supervisor for a company for 8 years. After spending about six months catering events for family and friends, which “was going really well,” Bevans decided it was time to try opening her first business, a restaurant with her namesake. Bevans is CEO, her daughter is general manager, and Bevans’ two sisters are also employees.
“I’ve been a single mom all my adult life. My daughter is 23 and my son is 25. It’s always been the three of us, so I’ve always struggled working two jobs and taking care of the kids and paying the bills. I couldn’t help my family do anything,” Bevans recalled. “But I feel now is my moment.” Bevans said she drew on her faith for strength when she took her 401k and invested it in her business.
Her biggest challenge is getting orders out on time. “I know the food is going to be good, and it’s well worth the wait, but when you’re on your lunch hour you only have so much time to eat and go. That’s what we’re working on now, getting the food out with the same quality, the same quantity, but just a faster service. There are only two of us at a time cooking and a whole lobby full of people on their lunch hour.”
With her 30 years of experience in customer service, Bevans’ love for her customers and people helps her keep a level head under pressure. “It is a genuine love that I have,” she said. “I want to make sure that everyone is happy when they leave.”
701 E. 28th St., Suite 317
In starting her business, Senior Solutions Team, owner Machelle Thompson had one goal in mind: helping people stay at home, in their primary environment, until the end – if that’s what they want.
Thompson, who holds a bachelor’s degree in physical therapy from St. Mary College, has lived in Long Beach for about 30 years. She started her career as a physical therapist and worked her way to becoming the director of a rehabilitation and skilled nursing facility. From there, Thompson earned a license as nursing home administrator and operated nursing homes in Los Angeles and Orange counties for about seven years.
“I never met one person who wanted to be in a nursing home,” Thompson confessed. “I researched opportunities in businesses and what might fit for the evolution of my career and what my passion is. I’ve always enjoyed working with seniors, and I discovered geriatric care management.” At the time, geriatric care management was an evolving profession, but Thompson took a chance and started Senior Solutions Team six and a half years ago.
The business, which officially opened in 2005, offers both geriatric care management and private duty home care. It has about 40 employees, making Senior Solutions Team a smaller business in the home care industry. “We have continued to grow each year, which I am grateful for in this economy,” Thompson said. “I would say in terms of how the business has grown, it has been related to specializing in certain areas. We help people with hoarding syndrome, cleaning up their homes for them, being with people who are on hospice. We’ve gotten a little more sophisticated in the specialty services that we offer.”
Thompson said her biggest challenge is educating the healthcare professional and consumer communities about the role of geriatric care managers as problem solvers, similar to accountants. “We can assist them to make educated and wise decisions with the challenges that they are facing,” she said.
A secondary challenge for Thompson’s business is educating people about legitimate and non-legitimate home care agencies. In other words, legitimate businesses have workers’ compensation insurance and bonded employees. “Our biggest competition is with agencies that don’t provide those services, and we can’t compete with them price-wise,” she said. “But the consumers are not aware of what the dangers are in those situations.”
5355 E. Carson St.
“I’ve spent so much time here that it’s more like my home than my home is,” joked Lynnette Taylor, owner of Taylor Young Real Estate & Investments.
Taylor, who opened the business in May 2008, started her career as a licensed realtor in 1985 and became a licensed broker in 1992. That year, she bought a Century 21 ADK franchise office – and operates out of the same space today. She ran that business for 10 years before selling to Century 21 Sparrow in 2002. ‘I thought I would just work there [Century 21 Sparrow] the rest of my life and be a happy camper,” Taylor said of her transition from business owner to employee. But when the real estate market began to take a turn in 2007, Sparrow closed its doors.“I said, ‘You’ve kicked me out of a place I’ve been forever.’ This was my home,” Taylor said. Over the next six months, Taylor worked for Prudential until the building owner of her previous office location started calling her, trying to get Taylor to come back and start all over again. “Guess what? I did,” she said. “I thought, ‘Oh well. I did it before. I can do it again.’”
Taylor Young Real Estate & Investments focuses on residential listings and buyers, but also caters to the occasional commercial client. The firm does things “the old fashioned way,” as Taylor put it; she and her employees emphasize meeting with people face-to-face and working on print listings rather than the Internet. “A lot of people are losing their homes; it’s so important to sit down and talk to them and try to help them out,” Taylor said. “I just feel that it is more personal.”
The agents at the firm, who were all employees of the Century 21 Sparrow office before they “broke up,” have been in the business as long as Taylor. While it has been tough for the business over the past few years, Taylor said her biggest challenge is keeping her staff motivated and not “depressed.”
“We’ve all been through it before, many times, in the 1980s and the early 1990s,” she said. “This is just the hardest one we’ve had to go through. But I keep motivated because they, and the community, are my two most important things; [I want to keep] inspiring the agents and the people in the area that I’ve known for so long.”
4121 Long Beach Blvd.
Long Beach native Melissa Zambrano made her dreams come true when she opened her retail shop on October 15, 2011. Aptly named Urban Cottage: A Store For Your Soul, Zambrano has transformed her shop’s 500 square feet into a space with industrial art and home décor while maintaining both new and vintage products mostly made by local artisans.
Urban Cottage, located at 4121 Long Beach Blvd., offers vintage, repurposed and recycled items produced by local jewelry makers, upholstery designers, lamp makers and more. “I’m interested in helping the passionate artist,” Zambrano said. Selected with her “eclectic eye,” most of the products at Urban Cottage are exclusive to her store, are not mass-produced and cost anywhere from $5 to thousands of dollars. “I try to group things together that are unique, a little different, that has an Italian or French flair,” she said. “I also like industrial. It’s a look that I’ve tried to create for the store, an aesthetic.”
The Long Beach native said it made sense to her to open a business in the community she has been a part of for almost 30 years. “I have a family, a small son and a husband, and I want to keep balance in my life. I think working in my community and living here, you get support from your community,” Zambrano said.
Zambrano also has a passion for interior decorating, helping friends and family design their spaces. “It’s just been very natural for me to create an expression of each person’s dwelling,” she said. “I like to help pull out their personality and express themselves in their home.” This passion helped guide her in the product layout in her small shop, which she said is designed to feel like someone’s home.
The biggest challenge facing Zambrano is educating consumers about shopping local and the value of supporting the local artisans and business community. “I think the society we’ve created is quick, fast-food where you can run into a Target or a Wal-Mart and you can grab something that is mass produced and cheaper,” she said. “It’s created a lazy consumer that isn’t as supportive of small business. My biggest challenge is getting that consumer to open up to shopping local and giving back to the small business.”
146 Linden Ave.
Max Viltz, owner of world import shop Village Treasures, was inspired to bring African imports to Long Beach after a once-in-a-lifetime experience in Egypt nearly 40 years ago.
Freeman and her husband, Rick, had been working in the beauty industry for years as The Freeman Cosmetic Corporation, focusing on the manufacturing and branding of the Freeman beauty products. When the family moved to Long Beach in the early 1990s, she saw an opportunity to get into the retail beauty store business in Belmont Shore. By 1994, Freeman opened 2nd Street Beauty at 4910 E. 2nd St.
Texas-born Viltz, who grew up in Long Beach, took her first trip to Africa – Egypt, specifically – as part of an educational tour with African-Americans from across the country. Tour leaders encouraged participants to return to their home cities and open cultural centers, and Viltz did just that. In 1977, she opened an African cultural center in Long Beach with educational classes for the public. Viltz soon added a gift shop to display and sell artifacts imported from African villages.
At the time, Viltz was still working a full-time job while maintaining the center and shop. In September 2001, Viltz moved her gift shop to the East Village Arts District. Soon after, she quit her job to focus on the shop full-time. Village Treasures offers furniture, masks, statues, framed art, tapestries, housewares and more. Viltz carries textiles from different areas of the world, such as Kente cloth and mudcloth, and handmade jewelry, clothing and personal products.
To help expand her business, Viltz has participated in various trunk shows, trade shows and African-themed festivals in recent years. “I’ve done the Pan African Film Festival, helping them decorate some of the areas where they have parties after some of the shows,” Viltz said. “That’s been a really good source to expose the business. Recently I did the Anaheim Home and Garden Show, trying to expand more out that way and capture some of the designers that often are looking for textiles and accessories for homes.”
Viltz said the biggest challenge for her business is having enough sales to cover the expenses of the shop. The East Village’s 2nd Saturday Art Walk event continues to be the shop’s best day of the month, in terms of sales, she said.
“It has grown to some extent, but on the other hand we are supposed to be an arts district but the galleries have closed,” Viltz said. “The reason for that is business owners must sell what people are buying, if people are buying at all. It’s true that more women shop than men, so that’s the reason for more clothing [boutiques]. Even in my shop, I try to cater more to women as well. I’ve started carrying more clothing and scarves that are especially good gift items.”
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- Markets Remain On Slow Growth Trajectory As Pockets Of The Economy Gain Strength
- New Ordinance To Lay Groundwork For Adaptive Reuse Projects In Long Beach
- Port Of Long Beach’s Engineering Bureau Examined By Consulting Firm, May Be Restructured
- Banks Reposition Brick-And-Mortar Retail Strategy As Mobile, Online Usage Increases
- Labor Ordinances To Be Drafted For Airport And Convention Center