TU Article: A business role reversal

TROY — The movers and shakers in this Victorian city’s commercial district increasingly are women.

There seems to be no one reason why nearly 60 shops, cafes and other businesses are headed by women and if you ask the owners themselves, they’ll come up with a range of answers.

Melissa Mykal Batalin, Art Director and Manager of The Troy Book Maker, holds several of their books in their office on Wednesday March 30, 2011 in Troy, NY. They are one of several businesses in Troy owned by women. ( Philip Kamrass/ Times Union )

Melissa Mykal Batalin, who manages The Troy Book Makers on River Street, says it’s the surroundings.

“I think it’s just that Troy is a very open-minded area for businesses to start,” she said. “It’s a small town with big-city architecture.”

Dawn Gagne, who opened The Botanic Studio on River Street last month, also likes the city’s appearance.

“The architecture, the visual appeal of the spaces, the accessibility as far as the cost goes,” all attracted her, Gagne said.

“What stands out about downtown Troy is the village-like atmosphere and sense of community,” says Tobi Saulnier, who founded video game maker 1st Playable Productions. “It’s a very walkable town with dozens of places to eat. The bank is a block away, the post office two blocks, and when you walk down the street you’re likely to know about half the people you pass.”

Elizabeth Young, executive director of the newly formed Troy Business Improvement District and herself a business owner, thought the inexpensive rents might play a part.

And the business owners, she said, tend to support one another, sharing their business tips and experiences.

But the growth of women business owners isn’t new, and it’s not only happening in Troy.

A new survey by American Express Co. found the number of women-owned businesses in New York state has increased by 58 percent since 1997.

Three years ago, downtown Troy had about two dozen women-owned businesses, a number that has more than doubled since then.

The businesses have grown carefully and deliberately, many enduring a two-year recession even as several businesses owned by men failed.

Of course, a few women-owned businesses didn’t make it through the period, either.

Still, “women can be very tenacious,” observed Jeff Pfeil, whose wife, Deane Pfeil, owns Pfeil Hardware downtown. “They don’t quit easily.”

The state has programs in place to assist women and minority-owned businesses with an assortment of tax credits and tax breaks.

But Jeff Pfeil said those don’t typically extend to retailers.

Rather, he thinks it’s the support network that’s grown up in the city. A woman starting out likely will get plenty of assistance from experienced retailers, as well as from the Troy BID and, in many cases, from her spouse.

On weekends, for example, Jeff Pfeil is in his wife’s store, helping shoppers find whatever they need.

Ted Potrikus, executive vice president of the Retail Council of New York State, wonders whether the growth of women in retail might reflect “where the consumer power is.”

Female business owners also have plenty of peers.

Women hold a number of significant positions in Troy. In addition to heading the Arts Center of the Capital Region, the Rensselaer County Regional Chamber of Commerce, and the Troy BID, the Rensselaer County Historical Society‘s new director is a woman.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Russell Sage College also have woman presidents.

Even the city’s popular farmers’ market is managed by a woman, and many of the participating farmers are also women.

Kathe Anzola, who was shopping in The Botanic Studio last week, owns a downtown business, Indigo, a hair salon.

“I’d like to expand,” she said. “I’m at that point.”

But even if she does, she’ll stay downtown, she added.

For all the businesses that have opened over the past three years, there’s still room for new entrepreneurs to set up shop.

The small spaces that many occupy keeps costs such as heat and inventory manageable, several businesswomen said.

When success comes, the stores have found it easy to expand. Truly Rhe, a women’s clothing store, moved around the corner to a larger space in the Cannon Building. 1st Playable Productions is expanding to space above Market Block Books, another woman-owned business.

“Downtown Troy is not only beautiful and historic; it is also safe and inviting,” said Troy Mayor Harry Tutunjian. “The business climate has been dramatically improved by the many entrepreneurial women who have chosen to open businesses here.”

The mayor knows firsthand about successful businesswomen.

His wife, after all, runs the popular Francesca’s, a restaurant at Fifth and Broadway.

Read the full article at TimesUnion.com