When a friend mentioned women own most businesses on Waterbury’s Stowe Street, I thought, “Why is that news?” Women in leadership have made great strides since winning the vote. Perhaps Stowe Street just evolved that way.
Then I learned about Rose Sheple, the only woman who ran a business a century ago ago in Waterbury. In Waterbury Women Stories & Inspiration, a display at the Vermont History Museum in Montpelier (until Jan. 29), the Waterbury Historical Society displays a 1921 photo of a woman’s suffrage parade around the corner from Stowe Street. The photo shows a group of citizens with placards (“Down with the Tyranny of Man!”) and a float sponsored by Sheple Coal. After her husband died, Mrs. Sheple ran the business and became a respected community leader.
Fast-forward a century, and take a stroll down Stowe Street today. And after that, read about why it’s important for women-owned businesses to get counted here.
Lasting Image Salon
Jodi Green, a 1992 Harwood Union graduate, always wanted a business on Stowe Street. She trained in Chittenden County, then ran salons in Williston and South Burlington before opening Lasting Image Salon in 2018.
“Many of my clients worked for the state, and so when they returned to Waterbury, I followed them,” Green said. “Some of the laid-off workers at Keurig had moved to Montpelier, and so they could also manage to book in central Vermont. During the pandemic shutdown, they would send me funny photos of haircuts they did themselves! … many people were working from home and had flexibility scheduling our services.”
Working in a small town has advantages, Green says. She often sees residents sunning on a bench opposite her business, keeping an eye on the neighborhood. One time, she said, “My husband stopped by the salon after-hours to pick up something, and they phoned to warn me that there might be a break-in in progress!”
Green has observed profound changes in downtown Waterbury. “Walking down Stowe Street as a child, I wondered why the windows of one store were covered with black paper — and then I was told it was a porn shop!” She remembers empty storefronts and not much commercial activity. After Tropical Storm Irene hit in August 2011, she saw the community come together to revitalize the town.
Lasting Image Salon has a huge waiting list, but Green employs two popular stylists, Cindy MacRitchie and Joy Roebacker. During the pandemic, they have adjusted to COVID-19 protocols with touchless pay and texting clients when their stylist is ready.
“Of course, sanitizing everything is not new to us because of our training. We love Waterbury!”
Pandemic and beyond, Lasting Image Salon has earned success in Jodi Green’s hometown, and she plans to stay and represent a cleaner and more family-friendly image than the porn shop predecessor.
Stowe Street Emporium
Next door, you’ll find Stowe Street Emporium, run by Kathy Murphy and husband Larry, with their daughter Kate Ruggles. As a “mini department store,” with clothing, housewares, jewelry, cards, and gifts, emphasizing sustainable products, Vermont-made items, and the work of local artists.
The store opened in 1994 under owners/partners Jack Carter and Ted Schutheis, and was slated to close in 2013. Ruggles said her parents ran a different business in Waterbury Center at the time. They bought Carter’s store, and Ruggles, eager to use her interior design training, joined the team.
“They had never done retail before but are both hard workers. We put our hearts into it,” Ruggles said.
Before the pandemic, the store had never offered online shopping. Ruggles dreamed up the idea of delivering fun boxes to people’s doorsteps, which became the Emporium’s “Mystery Box” program.
“We wanted to bring joy to people, even though we were separated from each other. People would choose a theme, and my parents would assemble boxes in the store, while I was home with my children giving them advice. Then, my parents were driving all over the state! We felt such love and support.”
This month, Ruggles and her mother are traveling to Atlanta, Georgia on a buying trip. “We used to order from catalogs, but this way we can get everything done in three days.” Because of the pandemic, they plan to get takeout and limit each day to one of the three buildings. Ruggles enjoys working as a family. “I grew up inspired by my parents’ entrepreneurial spirit and taking the risk to start a new business.”
Next door, with a pocket park, Bridgeside Books is owned by Katya d’Angelo and husband Chris Triolo of Waterbury.
The independent bookstore had previously been owned by Hiata Corduan. “When we found out she was selling, we decided it was a risk we could take on, and a plus was that we live around the corner from the shop. I am proud and amazed at how much we were able to get done in our first year. We completely revamped the shop — fresh paint job, new lighting, inventory program, and website — and moved all the sections around to increase our fiction selection and carve out an improved spot for the kids’ area. We also brought in tabletop games and started a game-rental program.”
As the business grew, D’Angelo hired two part-time employees: Jenna Danyew of Waterbury and Maddie Cross of Montpelier. In 2021 the store donated 336 books for children to the Giving Tree to benefit Waterbury’s Children’s Literacy Foundation. Plans for 2022 include a bookstore scavenger hunt, game nights, a puzzle swap, and book blind dates.
Because bookstores have some of the lowest profit margins in retail, selling nonbook items helps keep the business afloat. d’Angelo says, “I hand-pick everything in the store because I don’t want to carry any old stuff. I prioritize local, quality, minimal packaging, and handmade, not necessarily in that order!”
The bookstore sponsors a book group and special programs, such as a public event with Vermont authors Sarah Stohmeyer and Tess Stimson on January 26 at 5:30.
Stowe Street Café
Exit the bookstore and enter Stowe Street Café, literally connected to the bookstore’s back door. Cafe owner Nicole Mondejar Grenier, a self-deemed “mompreneur,” is a member of the Main Street Alliance of Vermont and believes passionately in helping the community.
The café’s Pay It Forward program offers gift certificates that patrons can buy for neighbors who depend on the food shelf. In 2020 the café raised more than $9,000 for the work of the American Civil Liberties Union. The Café also received a $10,000 grant from Businesses for Social Responsibility.
Right now, they offer takeout, including my favorite, Roy G Biv Salad and Brave Coffee, as well as local art and gifts.
Axel’s Frame Shop and Gallery
Owned by Axel Stohlberg for 40 years, Axel’s Frame Shop and Gallery at 5 Stowe Street got a redesign by Whitney Aldrich in 2013. The current gallery exhibits the first solo show by artist Heather Berneck Guptill with a reception on Jan. 27 from 6 to 8 pm. Aldrich works with new homeowners who recently migrated to Vermont with “art curating” services for particular spaces and budgets. She reaches out to them with a welcome note and gift certificate. Work of local metalsmith Raegan Hough and pop-up events complement her framing services.
Black Back Pub
A brick federal-style building in Waterbury’s historic district houses the Black Back Pub on 1 Stowe Street, owned by Lynn Mason and Dave Juenker since 2014. It offers a wide selection of local craft beers “elevated comfort food” — Tater Tot poutine, chicken chili, beer cheese mac & cheese — as well as dinner fare. They have recently bought the entire building and have 22 employees, and are looking to hire more for the kitchen.
The oldest shop on Stowe Street, KC’s Bagels, owned by Kyle Russell and Buffy Garrand serves breakfast and lunch. They also cater events.
They offer 13 flavors of cream cheese (I recommend the lox spread and the bacon-horseradish) local Green Mountain Coffee, and daily specials. Kyle has many regulars.
At #10, Tabbatha Henry Designs houses a workshop for custom installations, lighting, and sculpture, and offers classes. Tabbatha Henry grew up with art and loves Scandinavian design. Galleries around the country feature her work, including five in Vermont; this is the flagship store, Cadence Shea, Henry says, is her right-hand person in Waterbury.
Other women owned businesses in Waterbury surround Stowe Street. Around the corner at 40 Foundry Street is PK Coffee, Katrina Veerman, proprietor. At the top of the street at 2 North Main, Sunflower Salon and Boutique, owned by Kelly Richardson. Other women-owned businesses in Waterbury include Garfield’s Hairdressing owned by Crystl Garfield; and Life After Mold, Yarn, Proud Flower, Edgeworks Creative, Hender’s Bake Shop & Cafe, Interactive Training, Paprika Catering Company and many more.
Thinking back to Mrs. Rose Sheple in Waterbury’s early days, it’s clear that women’s entrepreneurship and abilities contribute to the economic strength of this small town.
Linda Radtke lives in Middlesex. Special thanks to Sarah Page and photographer Don Hirsch.