Taking care of business

A blonde woman standing with her hand in her pocket, standing next to arranged flowers
In 1996, Blooming Dahlia owner Melissa Sacco saw a need for a flower shop on Beverly Road, and the rest is history.

hey take care of children and, in some cases, grandchildren and aging parents. They are civic-minded and want to help their neighbors. They love Mt. Lebanon, and many of them live here.

They’re also women who own businesses here. While some of them are new at it, others have been proprietors for 20 years or more. They work on Beverly Road, on Washington Road and from home. Some have retail storefronts and regular hours, others work by appointment only. But all of them have thoughts about their experiences: the business climate here for women, how they got started, advice for other women entrepreneurs, and what they love about their work. Here’s what a sampling of women business owners had to say.

A woman using a loom with fabrics and clothing hanging behind her
Jen Curran’s love of weaving outgrew her Lyndhurst Avenue home and spurred her to open a studio in the Lebanon Shops.

Getting Started

“It’s a place for women to bring lovely, gently used clothing but also a place for women to meet other women and forge connections,” said Judy DeFrancis, who has owned The Clothes Horse, a women’s consignment shop at 306 Beverly Road, for 30 years. DeFrancis is the third owner of the shop, which opened in 1974 across the street from its current location.

“I bought the store in 1993. I was a widow with two children, one in junior high and my son was across the street at Lincoln,” DeFrancis said. “So it was easy for me, if anything was wrong, to just be able to run across the street. I think that’s why children are always welcome in the shop, because I was a mother with small children.”

Karin Smith and Jen Brandenstein, who own Barefoot Stitches & Gifts at 313 Beverly Road, were working together as event designers, and had no plan to go into the retail business at all. They stopped in at the store in 2022 to buy fixtures from the previous owner, who was closing. “We made a really fast decision,” said Brandenstein, “and we’re glad we did. We love it!”

Melissa Sacco has owned floral shop The Blooming Dahlia at 308 Beverly Road since 1996. “I grew up in Green Tree, but I was familiar with Beverly Road,” said Sacco, Ridgefield Avenue. “I was here with a friend, and I looked across the street and realized there was no flower shop on Beverly Road. My dad gambled on me and gave me a small loan.”

Available real estate played a role in the opening of Mel’s Petit Café at 431 Cochran Road. “Finders Keepers closed, the space opened up,” said owner Melanie Streitmatter, Arrowood Drive. “Having a business in the community where I lived was a no-brainer. And Mt. Lebanon reminded us of the small village in France where we come from.”

Before Jen Curran opened her knitting and weaving studio, Weave a Good Yarn, in Lebanon Shops this past April, she had worked out of her home on Lyndhurst Avenue. “I had too many looms! It was either move, put on an addition, or get my own space.”

Meredith Broussard, who opened the golden beetle at 95 Central Square last year, had wanted to have a home décor shop for a long while. “This was something that I talked about years and years ago when we lived in Miami. And then life came, and we didn’t do it. After moving here for our grandchildren, I just felt that this was something I wanted to revisit. And when my husband and I discussed it last year in depth, we decided to go forward.”

two woman standing, one is holding a brown dog
Nourish and Move owner Kayla Simmons, right, has been able to expand her range of services after hiring marketing consultant Natalie Rihmland

The Lure of Mt. Lebanon

Mt. Lebanon gets high marks as a place to open a business, these women say.

Kim Evans, Nicole Stanton, and Cara Mondzelewski are proprietors of day spa Lana Vita Massage & Skincare, 306 Beverly Road. “When we first showed up here [in 2020], all the local businesses were quick to greet us and welcome us,” said Evans. “They were so excited to have a spa in this area. Everybody is really supportive of each other’s business.”

“Mt. Lebanon in itself is great, but Beverly Road is really great,” said Sacco of the neighborhood around The Blooming Dahlia. “On Beverly Road, there’s almost more women business owners than not. And you know, it’s really family-oriented.”

“Mt. Lebanon embraced our salon,” said Kristen Peckich, who has owned spa and salon La Pomponnée at 659 Washington Road, for 32 years. “Even during COVID, they rallied for us. I couldn’t have picked a better community. Location, location, location!”

DeFrancis feels that women are uniquely suited to do business here.

“I think that women bring something to Mt. Lebanon and the shops there that nobody else can. The fact that my shop has been there so long, and that this is the third ownership of it in nearly 60 years, speaks a lot about how women do well. We’re used to nurturing. We’re used to making people feel invited and welcome.”

Many felt that our community is very partial to local and independent businesses. As Nicole Simonian, owner of Uptown Coffee, put it,

“I think in Mt. Lebanon people like to support small businesses and something that’s in their own community.”

a woman sitting cross-legged with clothes hanging behind her
Judy DeFrancis has owned The Clothes Horse, a Beverly Road consignment shop, since 1993. At the time, she was a single mom with kids in Jefferson Middle School and Lincoln Elementary, and she welcomed the flexibility afforded by owning her business.

Factoring in Family

Owning a business has put pressure on family obligations, but also gives these women some flexibility.

Traci Lipple of Pinetree Road owns two businesses she runs out of her home: Coco Blue, an event planning firm, and Boxx My Party, which provides themed supplies for kids’ parties. She works around the schedules of her third- and fourth-graders. She also has a 20-year-old. “When he was young, I was working full time for an event planning company, travelling all the time, and I missed a lot,” she said. “But now I pick up after school, I drop off at school, I’m a coach, I’m in charge of the book fair. I feel very blessed.”

Stanton has had to cut back her schedule as a massage therapist to accommodate the needs of her infant daughter, and has struggled to find childcare. “Seeking daycare and things like that is a challenge that I think a lot of women face,” she said. “I’m lucky to have my parents available and a supportive partner, but it falls a lot on women to make those decisions, do all the juggling, figure it all out. Being a working mother is difficult for young women in my position. I’m just not as available as I used to be.”

“I am lucky that my husband is a teacher, so he’s done earlier than I am,” said Streitmatter, who is the mother of 18-year-old twins and a 14-year-old. “It’s easier in a way because they can walk home, do errands, do things on their own. I’m not sure if I could have done this when they were little.”

What They Love

The satisfactions of owning a business go way beyond earning a living.

“I’m super-passionate about weaving,” said Curran. “I really love it—it’s a very meditative process. I don’t know what I’d do with all the stuff I make if I wasn’t able to sell it! As soon as I got my first loom, I was obsessed with it.”

Nourish and Move’s Kayla Simmons advises using your intuition. “When an opportunity presents itself, don’t be afraid—go for it. That’s how it happened for me. It wasn’t necessarily on my radar to start a yoga studio, but it just felt right.”

Since opening her studio last summer, Simmons has branched out to include acupuncture, massage, reflexology and doula services. She credits hiring a marketing consultant, Natalie Rihmland, with playing a crucial role in the expansion.

And both La Pomponnée and The Blooming Dahlia have been in business long enough that their owners have served customers at their weddings whom they knew as children.

Learning from Experience

Advice offered by these business owners ranged from the strategic to the personal to the philosophic.

Lipple says that having a strong support system is really important. “Obviously, go for it! I’m lucky to have a good support system—a husband who’s pushing me to try. But it makes me happy—when I’m working on this, I’m smiling!”

“My philosophy is do what you love, love what you do,” said Broussard. “You have to understand that it’s hard work, you’re taking on something that’s challenging, but fear is your great enemy. And if you tackle something that your heart is in, you’re going to hit the hurdles and go over them.”

“The only time I ever had a roadblock that I felt was discriminating was when I went to get a bank loan about 20 years ago,” said Peckich, “and they wouldn’t give it to me because I was going through a divorce. I said, ‘If I was a man going through a divorce, would we be talking about this?’”

DeFrancis says to know your area and the competition. “Because everybody can go to the big stores. But when a shopper picks a place and looks for a parking spot, they have to have a reason to shop at your store.”

Photos by John  Altdorfer