Small business owners in Roanoke’s Grandin Road business district are allies rather than competitors

Grandin Village retailers join forces to support one another, coordinate events and raise the historic district’s profile as a destination for unique and local shops. Video courtesy of Gray Goose of Grandin.

chill Blocktoberfest. Small business owner on Saturday. The pages rustle when daily planners are opened and calendars are coordinated.

Every new event is a new opportunity – one that Grandin Village’s retailers stitch together to make the most of it.

“Numbers are power,” said Katelynn Lewis, owner of New to Me Consignment Boutique, during an informal coffee meet-up that ensued as the eclectic neighborhood’s business owners work to collaborate and strategize.

Her group ranges from new shop owners — Lewis bought New to Me in 2020 just before the pandemic hit — to longtime retailers like Ashley Arney, who has run Urban Gypsy for 12 years.

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Unifying them is the desire to raise the profile of Grandin Village as a destination for the unique and the local. Their stores are only a few blocks, sometimes yards apart. But there is no competitive mindset that separates them all.

“We work together,” said Ashley Curtis, who runs Gray Goose of Grandin, a home decor and antiques store, with her mother, Karen Curtis.

The village’s appeal isn’t rooted in a hectic shopping experience that requires a quick hop in and out, added Curtis, who specializes in marketing and online advertising.

The time-honoured area for strolling – which also features restaurants, wine bars and the Grandin Theater – is laid out so that you can spend an afternoon outside exploring everything the village has to offer.

“It’s rare that someone goes to Grandin and only comes across one store,” Curtis said. “When you come, you make drinks and brunch and shop. It’s a full day. And that’s what we’re trying to promote, the village as a whole.”

The coffee roundtable, which meets monthly, came about naturally as the neighborhood welcomed an influx of new shopkeepers and retailers began to lean on each other in the uncertain days of the pandemic.

The group is entirely female-owned, not by design, but as a result of the natural demographics of the district’s shopkeepers. Women in entrepreneurship are on the rise, accounting for nearly half of new businesses launched in the US last year, according to the World Economic Forum.

The pandemic, which has upended retail, has had a disproportionately bad impact on women-owned businesses, according to the results of a 2020 survey by the US Chamber of Commerce, which sought to warn of the plight of small businesses. “We cannot allow this pandemic to set back a generation of women entrepreneurs,” Chamber President Suzanne Clark said at the time. “The health and viability of small businesses is critical to our nation’s economic recovery.”

For the shopkeepers of Grandin, this melting pot led them to forge closer bonds with one another.

Karen Curtis, who worked at Black Dog Salvage for years, had just decided to take the plunge into shopkeeper by buying Gray Goose in 2020 — in March 2020, to be precise, just days before life came to an abrupt halt came.

“We needed to be together,” Curtis said of the community she found among Grandin’s business owners. “I don’t know what we would have done during Covid without their support.”

This has continued to this day. Texts, calls and the exchange of ideas flow between the boutiques. At the monthly coffee meeting, they can take time to share updates and develop new strategies.

“You have to try new things because the retail industry is changing,” said Laurie Frohock, who has been in business for 13 years but moved to Grandin last year for a larger space for her gifts and accessories boutique, Two and a Half to open Sisters. which she owns with her sister and sister-in-law.

The way their new neighbors have taken to the store has been encouraging, Frohock said. They all realized that they were dealing with the same forces and that drawing more attention and foot traffic to Grandin helps the whole village.

Gathered around a table in Grandin Village’s Little Green Hive cafe, the group exchanged ideas for new poster designs and event promotions. There has been talk of serving hot chocolate at the neighborhood’s annual holiday parade, or coordinating specials and happy hours with neighborhood restaurants on a specific day of the week.

What if they got bigger?

“Small business weekend,” Ashley Curtis suggested, adding that she’d love to see some Christmas shoppers coming in that Sunday too.

The holiday season is a pivotal quarter for the retail world, Arney noted, and Grandin stores are looking to go all out.

Things remain difficult in the industry even as the world approaches a post-pandemic era, but Arney said partnerships like the one she has found with her fellow shopkeepers give her hope.

Running your own small business can sometimes feel like a lonely journey, she said. This is a group that strives to nurture connections and share both their concerns and their accomplishments.

“This camaraderie is huge. It actually gave me goosebumps to say that,” said Arney, whose boutique Urban Gypsy stocks clothing, gifts and home accessories.

“It was great to have fresh blood and new ideas,” she said. “I feel like we have momentum.”


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