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More mom, less pop

More than 70 percent of Multnomah Village's shops are owned by women

It may be a man's world but it's a woman's village.

Just a glance down Southwest Capitol Highway proves the point - Peggy Sundays, A Closer Look Gallery, The Quinella, Topanien, Annie Bloom's, Sweets, Etc., Village Frame and Gallery - all are owned by women.

In the Village's walking map and business directory, more than 70 percent of the 'places to shop' have women as their sole proprietors. This is much higher than the national average of women who are majority owners of a business, which stands about 30 percent, according to the United States Census Bureau.

The number of women owners in Multnomah isn't just high for the nation - it's high for the metro area. The Center for Women's Business Research said that about 34 percent of businesses are majority owned by women in Portland, Vancouver and Beaverton.

So what is it about the Village that draws such a high concentration of women-owned businesses?

'It's a gentle, progressive place,' said acupuncturist Carrie Bleiweiss, L.Ac. of Village Wellness Center. 'It has a neighborhood feel. It's small and I think the coziness appeals to women,' she said.

Jennifer Robinson from Switch Shoes said that the quaintness of the Village is a draw.

'I grew up in Ashland and [Multnomah Village] feels like a small town in a big city,' she said.

Multnomah Antiques' owner Judy Torme has had an antiques shop in the Village for more than three decades. When she first began, she said the area was more like 'a small town and it had all the things you needed.' Those things included a men's clothing shop, a hardware store, barber shops, an office supply store and a drug store.

Then times changed and stores like hers were very popular.

'We had as many as 13 antique shops at one time,' she said.

Today the Village is filled with specialty stores and items that are fun to shop for like Birdie's amusing cards and whimsical gifts, Peggy Sundays' sophisticated home items and Topanien's folk art and imported crafts.

So what is driving these women to want to go into business?

'Every woman would love to have her own little place,' Torme said. 'It's just whether the opportunity comes along or not.'

For some it's the flexibility of being able to work her schedule around her family and for some it's the desire to be her own boss. Others have experience, a good idea and a 'why not?' spirit.

'It just hit me one day,' said Jill Crecraft, owner of Sip D'Vine. 'The Village needs a wine shop and I'm just the one to do it.'

One thing that didn't spur the influx of women was financial help from the government.

'You always hear that there is money for women in business, but I found none,' said LuAnn Rukke of Fibers in Motion, a contemporary quilt and fabric store.

Others agreed that high interest rates made opening a business difficult. Instead, many borrowed and saved to open shop.

Once into a business, owners like Michele Cassinelli of Village Beads said product knowledge and enthusiasm were just the tip of the iceberg. She had to learn about taxes, payroll, finances, inventory and marketing to make her business succeed.

'I never would have thought of myself as a business owner - it's a little intimidating' she said, but claimed that 'trail and error' and networking with fellow owners has taught her a lot of about her business.

The need to network is where the Multnomah Village Business Association comes in. The group meets once a month to learn from each other and plan events and projects. This year's board is made entirely of women.

'I see a lot of women who help each other,' said Luna Jaffe, former MVBA president and an Edward Jones Financial advisor in the Village. 'There's a lot of cooperative tendencies.'

The women patron their neighboring businesses, show local art in their shops and ask each other for advice.

Yet even with suppot, being the sole person responsible for a business' success means that they're often thinking of the store even when they take the day off.

'Even though you have other people working for you - you're still it,' Rukke explained. 'You can't just walk away.'

Women are customers too

In Multnomah, women don't only own the shops that now dominate Capitol Highway, in many businesses women are the primary customers too.

Jaffe said that about 80 percent of her clients are women.

'Women really like working with other women,' she said 'Men that are brokers tend to be really analytical; women that are brokers tend to be relationship oriented.'

Bleiweiss agreed that in her field, patients often find comfort in working with a woman.

'Some of my clients are more at ease with a female health care provider,' she said.

Women owning businesses is nothing new in the United States but in the last few decades it has become more prominent. The women's movement for equal rights and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974 may have given momentum to the recent push.

The numbers of women starting their own business ventures continues to grow. There are little girls right now thinking, 'I want to own my own business when I grow up,' just like Bleiweiss and many of the other women said they thought when they were very young.'

'I've always had the independent, entrepreneur spirit,' she said.