Female Entrepreneurs Brave Economy, Open New Businesses

Women open shops in Pine and Cranberry.

Even when times are tough, people need birthday presents.

That was Mary Elwell’s thought when she started formulating the idea for her shop, Plumberry Gifts in Cranberry Township.

Elwell is one of a growing number of entrepreneurial women who have opened local businesses, despite the economy.

Pine businesswoman Sharon Scheidemantle, a real estate broker with ACHIEVE Realty who specializes in finding business locations for entrepreneurs as well as residential properties, said that she has helped several women find “the perfect” spot for their new ventures.

“Many people don’t even know we help businesses, but I have over 20 years' experience and an MBA, plus I live here, so I know the area and know what works well for businesses,” said the Pine resident.

Scheidemantle, who has been a business owner for years, recently helped several new business owners, such as Elwell, Nicki McGee and Donna Sanford.

Mary Elwell and Plumberry Gifts

Elwell opened her shop in June 2010 after working in analytical chemistry and mortgage career fields. When she started making and selling jewelry as a hobby, she began  toying with the idea of opening her own shop.

“When the shop where I sold my things went on the market, I thought of buying it but realized I wanted to create my own from the ground up,” she said.

Elwell, who also lives in Cranberry, found her shop close to her own home and started looking for other crafters and unique gifts to sell.

“I wanted people to say, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve never seen this before,’ ” she said.

Although some thought she was “crazy” to open a shop, she said, “I asked myself, ‘If not now, then when?’ People still need gifts for their loved ones, no matter what the economy.”

In her shop, Elwell carries her own jewelry along with several other artists’ work, including wooden items made by her husband, Bill.

“I have items for personal gifts, items for the home, things for the guys. I try to have a little bit of everything,” she said.

Elwell admits that she didn’t realize just how exhausting owning a business would be, but feels that because she works for herself, it will payoff in the long run.

“Plus, Bill is retired now and really helps out. I couldn’t do it without him,” she said. Elwell has only one other “very part-time” employee, one of the artists whose work she carries.

Nicki McGee and Sincerely Yogurt

Nicki McGee, a friend of Scheidemantle, opened her Pine Township yogurt store, Sincerely Yogurt, a few weeks ago. 

Like Elwell, McGee wanted a shop close to home. The Pine resident and mother of three children, 14-year-old Reilly and 11-year-old twins Kylyn and Neeley, knew her children were old enough to not need her every minute, but still young enough that she wanted to be “five minutes away.”

McGee and her husband, Brian, were looking for some sort of investment opportunity when something Reilly said sparked an idea.

“He came home and said he had some really great frozen yogurt,” she said. McGee researched Sincerely Yogurt and decided the franchise was a good investment.

McGee, who majored in X-ray technology in college, didn’t have a retail background before she opened the store, but “really believes in the product.”

Although it is too soon to tell how the business will do, she said it's been so far, so good.

“It is very weather-dependent, of course, but this is a great product and a great location,” she said of her Pine Tree Shoppes store along Route 19.

With one full-time employee and 10 part-time employees, McGee has been keeping busy with her new venture.

She laughed, “I have never felt so dumb for so many consecutive days in a row, but I am learning and growing every day.”

Donna Sanford and Spirit Ready-Ride

Donna Sanford, also of Pine Township, had experience as a Harley-Davidson dealer for more than 22 years. When her life took a different direction, she decided to open up Spirit Ready-Ride, a motorcycle repair shop and boutique.

She opened the shop in Wexford in June 2010, but recently relocated to Millvale when the construction on Route 19 affected traffic patterns and, consequently, her business.

Despite the years of experience in her former business, Sanford faces challenges with her new shop.

“My other business had a very different clientele. Name recognition alone helped,” she explained. “With my shop, we have had to start from scratch.”

“Back to scratch” means hitting bike nights at various locations around the area and reaching out to bikers at other events.

“You have to get the same effect for less cost,” she said.

On her own, Sanford is able to offer lower prices on repair services and her retail items, a plus in this economy.

Because the motorcycle business is affected by the weather, Sanford said the winter months are harder, but the Christmas season is one of her busy times.

“I’m not making much money right now," she said, "but there is nothing like being in charge.”


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