Female small business owners share stories and advice


Daily file photo by Zoe Marlin

Cultivate Urban Rainforest and Gallery, owned by Louise Rosenberg, is one of many small businesses in Evanston owned by a woman.

Sam Heller, Assistant City Editor

October is National Women’s Small Business Month, a time to recognize and highlight female-owned businesses. According to the United States Census Bureau, about 44 percent of businesses in Evanston were owned by women in 2012.
Evanston Rebuilding Warehouse is one of these businesses. Executive Director Aina Gutierrez took over the business a few years ago from the original owner, also a woman. The non-profit works to reduce landfill waste by deconstructing or renovating houses sustainably. Unlike demolition, deconstruction allows the team to keep the home materials intact, which they then sell out of their warehouse. Gutierrez said it has been hard to break into the traditionally straight,white male-dominated industry of building-trades.

“I feel our responsibility is to push open the doors a little bit and diversify that industry, not only for women but also for people of color,” she said.

The warehouse was started in 2010 when the previous owner noticed people were remodeling and throwing away cabinets, appliances and other materials that were still in good condition. Since the social enterprise started, it has been continuously growing, Gutierrez said. Later this month, the social enterprise will be upsizing to a warehouse almost double the size of their current space, she said.

While her business has seen growth, Gutierrez said she’s faced several challenges that come with being a woman.

“A lot of our male colleagues have relied on their sheer physical strength to do their work, but if you’re a woman and 130 or 140 pounds, that doesn’t work for you,” she said. “ You have to think about physics, how you hold things differently, and how you can leverage your body and maximize gravity.”

When giving advice to other women trying to start their own business, Gutierrez passes down the words of her own mentor: be “pleasantly persistent.” She said this means not backing down from what you want, but doing so without being rude.

Malik Turley, another female business owner in the community, started Hip Center Empowerment Center 10 years ago to create a safe workout space for women to help inspire confidence around their physical and mental strength. She said the goal of her exercise classes is to focus on individual achievements and success while avoiding body-shaming language.

“By being in a community of women and moving your body you are inherently addressing mental health,” Turley said. “The way that we are teaching the classes and the way that we are interacting with each other promotes a strong self-image and strong self-esteem.”

The class participants are also encouraged to talk through any challenges they are having while working out in class, helping to grow their own confidence in a safe environment, she said.

Her advice for aspiring women business owners: make the most of your resources and have clear goals in mind.

Louise Rosenberg started her business, Cultivate Urban Rainforest & Gallery, after realizing that many household plants are toxic for pets. She said in her quest to learn what plants were safe for her cat, she was faced with a small selection, with many dull choices.

Thus she opened her store to sell hundreds of unique plants for homeowners, and now also hosts art galleries regularly. She has enjoyed working each day, and goes out of her way to hire people with a similar passion for plants, she said.

Rosenberg advises aspiring entrepreneurs to pursue something they love and be kind to their staff.

“If you know what you are offering and you really love it, it is going to shine through,” she said.

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Twitter: @samheller5

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