Beacon’s Return Part II: Siren’s Calling

“It has been a dream of mine to create a business borne of my desires. I refused to engage in a career based on the necessity of survival, working day to day feeling unfulfilled. My connection and relationship to the Earth was my greatest teacher in defining my life and career choices.”

– Donna Brickwood

Just as Beacon has returned, woven from the abandoned threads of its industrial past, women are also experiencing a resurgence. During my research for part I of  “Beacon’s Return,” I was surprised to find out that seventy percent of the businesses in town are owned by the fairer sex. This phenomenon proves how far women have come in terms of seizing opportunities that are now available. The vast majority of history chronicles the experience of women as second class citizens, beholden to fathers, brothers, and husbands, for a secure place in the world. Certain mythologies even promote the idea that we are weak of character and virtue. For centuries, we have been mere pawns, both reviled and revered for what we are supposed to represent. And while the architects of society have tried to downplay our worth, there was a time long ago when the Matriarch was held in the highest regard.

Wood Nymphs in Flight
“Wood Nymphs in Flight” by Noel Laura Nisbet

“When in the second century B.C. the Indo-European invaders and worshippers of a male sky-god, conquered Greece-at that time populated by a sedentary group of mother-goddess worshippers-they could not eliminate the cultural and religious influence of the people they had invaded. The feminine divinities took a lot of punishment but continued to manifest in all epochs of Greek history…”

– Ginette Paris from “Pagan Meditations,” pg. 5-6

There are many words with which to degrade the female, punishments for behavior that is far more acceptable in our male counterparts. Men get called playboys and bachelors, while the list of derogatory names for women is as long as it is varied. And while occasionally women have been granted positions of immense power, they still had to conform to the Patriarchal model to which we still adhere. It was such a woman who, along with her husband, set our current narrative into motion. Christopher Columbus’ voyage was sponsored by Queen Isabella of Spain and King Ferdinand II of Aragon. They could be considered the original power couple, a rare exception to the rule of gender disparity that existed until recent years.

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Columbus explaining his discovery to Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain (the cover of Harper’s Weekly, May 30, 1868, illustrated by Sir John Gilbert)

Fast forward to the present day and the media is captivated by the pairing off in the elite world of celebrity, often creating new monikers to mark the occasion. These portmanteaus can even outlast the unions themselves: TomKat, Brangelina, Bennifer, Vinnifer, Kimye, Tay-Squared, Robsten, etc (The practice of word-mashing might also be the decline of the English language but that is another tangent for another post.) It shows that our ultimate desire is not for women to eclipse or trample men, but to attain equitable partnerships.

The ultimate power couple had a front row seat to Barack Obama’s inauguration, Beyonce and Shawn Knowles-Carter. While there is nothing exceptional about Queen Bey naming her tour “The Mrs. Carter Show,” the fact that Jay-Z changed his last name to Knowles-Carter would be a surprising move for any man, let alone a famous rapper, record producer, and entrepreneur. Perhaps it is just one more sign of the changing times, proof that you can be strong, successful, independent, and still be hopelessly devoted to the person you love.

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Beyonce performing during her Mrs. Carter Show World Tour (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Boy you know you love it, how we’re…strong enough to bare the children, then get back to business

Who are we, What do we run, We run the world!

– Beyonce

It is an ambitious sentiment, but most of us are not Grammy Award winning performers. Now that The Daily Beast has proclaimed “It’s Beyonce’s World and We’re Just Living In It,” the hip hop diva has set her sights on yet another goal, ambassador for women’s rights. No longer content to merely perform her R&B anthems about strong women, she was the headlining act of “Chime for Change,” a fundraising concert in a London rugby stadium that took place on June 1st 2013. The seeds for this initiative were planted when Frida Giannini, who is also the creative director for Gucci, traveled to Malawi with UNICEF back in 2009. While many doors have opened for women here in the US, developing countries still struggle with basic issues of education, birth control, and personal freedom. The fact that women still die in childbirth might seem like an antiquated notion, but it is still a fact of life in other parts of the world. And a recent article for “Talking Points Memo” revealed that a third of all women have suffered at the hands of an abusive partner. So with the financial support of Gucci, Giannini teamed up with Beyonce and Salma Hayek Pinault and the concert was born.

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A Malawi farmer and her child (Source: Swathi_Sridharan/Flickr)

The reigning COO of Facebook is a woman, published author, and creator of “Lean In.” Sheryl Sandberg describes her latest venture as a “global community committed to offering women the encouragement and support to lean in to their ambitions.” And while Sandberg has breached the “glass ceiling,” the threshold still remains intact. In a video that has since gone viral, Miss Utah became completely tongue tied when asked the following question by NeNe Leakes during the Miss USA pageant: “A recent report shows that in forty percent of American families with children, women are the primary earners, yet they continue to earn less than men. What does this say about society?” Ironically, this newly contagious video clip says more about our society than Miss Utah did with her impression of a stunned deer. It is a shame that the popularity of this soundbite has nothing to do with the importance of the question, but the inability of the contestant to formulate a coherent response.

photo by Alan Light
photo by Alan Light

“Sex and the City” was famous for its window dressing, enviable wardrobes, and commentary on dating in our post-feminist world. When Carrie Bradshaw wondered very loudly as to whether or not women could really have it all, the comedy of errors that ensued seemed to suggest that no, it was not in fact possible. “Samantha woke up to discover she did have it all, including the flu.” And then as if the message of that particular “Sex and the City” episode was not clear enough, Sarah Jessica Parker went on to star in the film “How She Does It.” It is about a wife, mother, and workaholic whose business success is inversely proportionate with how much she can fail miserably at home. And while these stories did raise some valid questions, they were still scripted dramas that were written with a light pen and manicured hands. For many of the small business owners in Beacon, these are questions that require ongoing consideration.

Carley Franklin Hughes is the owner and driving force behind Ella’s Bellas, the gluten-free shop that she named after her young daughter.

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418 Main Street, Beacon, New York

The concept is simple…

“Ella’s Bellas believes that an indulgence should taste like an indulgence regardless of our dietary restrictions. That is why we bake with the best local ingredients and a lot of love and understanding. We specialize in Gluten-Free products but we promise you won’t know the difference.”

– Carley Franklin Hughes

After my first taste of Chinese Medicine some years ago, I have never been able to look at food the same way again. It can be medicinal or poisonous and there is no substitute for proper nutrition. While some foods are just naturally deficient of vitamins and minerals, others have been genetically tampered with. The result is a growing revolution among devout foodies. Since Carley has an intolerance to gluten and follows a vegan diet, her attention to ingredients is paramount. What started off as a wholesale business out of her house, has grown into the full-fledged shop, the evolution of swelling demand. She has adapted and improved upon traditional baking so that it is a better and more wholesome version of itself.

Ellas Treats

While Carley would not go so far as to call her baking “healthy,” it is the best alternative to satisfying the need for something sweet. All dairy and eggs are produced locally and with humane methods. My personal nemesis is processed sugar, so I was relieved to discover that her confections use conservative amounts of agave and other alternative sweeteners. She has also expanded upon her stable of baked goods to include light fare that is tasty and fresh. “I’m a big believer that you eat with your eyes first so presentation and atmosphere are extremely important.” She has also recently expanded her shop to include casual dining, with an aesthetic that is rustic, modern, and family-oriented. There are chalkboards decorating the base of the walls, within reach of a child’s grasp, but the space is equally inviting to adults. Balancing her different responsibilities is a challenge and Carley admits that doing it all herself would be an impossible feat.

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Success for Carley is about more than just finances, but following her passions and being a positive role model for her daughter.

“I want to show Ella that a women can run a business and have a family. Do I ever feel like I’m completely rocking both? Rarely, but I know we’re still building and I hope she doesn’t hold the trade off against me too much…”

But despite her concerns, the reason it all works is because her marriage is a partnership. In addition to his position as the Technical Director for the theater department at Ramapo College, developing the space for a Montessori School, and starting a sound production company, Jason Hughes is also involved with Ella’s on the business side. Carley and Jason demonstrate that “having it all” doesn’t mean doing it all alone.

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“By a Thin Thread” is where Allyson Vermeulen does fine tailoring, alterations, draping, and will make herself the occasional dress.

Allyson Vermeulen
145 Main Street, Beacon, New York

Her journey to becoming the woman she is now has been anything but a straight line, but she has many different selves to express. Like Carley, she is married and emerged from behind the scenes of New York City’s theater district. Allyson started out as an acting major at Fordham’s Lincoln Center Campus, but later shifted her focus to costume design. By Carley’s admission, the two should have met long before. “Allyson’s husband did lighting design on two shows I worked on. I still remember him getting married and talking about how he was moving upstate where he could buy a house, ‘an actual house.’ Four years later, when we moved up from Hoboken I kept thinking I saw someone who looked like Jimmy V. Finally, on a slow night at Maxes, we looked at each other, pointed and said ‘Heeeey!'”

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Whereas Ella’s Bellas has just experienced a growth spurt, Allyson works by appointment only. She never even drew up a business plan and is quite literally figuring it all out as she goes along. She has three boys and since they still require much of her energy, the shop is more of an outlet that affords her time, spending money, and a space that is completely her own. She is looking forward to the day when her youngest is in school full-time so she can devote more time to the business she loves. In the meantime, she has the flexibility to work around her active life at home.

Allyson

Gail Travis is a knitwear/dress designer, who is influenced more by architecture and trips to Home Depot than the trends of the day.

NFP Studio Gail
457 Main Street, Beacon, NY

Prior to moving to Beacon, Gail already had an impressive resume, having worked for such notable brands as Calvin Klein and Vera Wang. Her storefront at 457 Main Street doubles as a design studio, much in the same way that her sweaters are “convertible” and can be worn in a variety of ways. The styling of NFP’s knitwear collection is born equally of Gail’s design sense and the ability of the silhouette to undergo a complete metamorphosis. She uses natural fibers, including merino wool and eco-friendly cotton.

raw materials

While it is not feasible for her to produce the majority of her line in the US, she utilizes a factory in New Jersey whenever possible. Given the quality, neutral coloring, and multi-use functionality of her sweaters, they are a well-priced investment for the conscientious fashion collector. On her website, Gail sums up her holistic approach to design and business…

“N:F:P’s ability to turn upside-down, backwards, and creatively mold, secures the sustainability of each garment. It supports a more socially conscious and resourceful lifestyle through appreciation of highly designed, multi-functional product. Rooted in timeless architectural shapes, New Form Perspective’s goal is to encourage minimizing the disposable mindset of recent fashion, and increase awareness of fashion’s strength to be an enhancement to our basic environment and personal self.”

Convertible Sweater

Additionally, Gail offers an assortment of silk gowns with hand felted detailing. It is not lost on her that this process is reminiscent of Beacon’s heritage, the one-time hat-making capital of the U.S.

Felting

Her overall aesthetic is modern yet timeless and she does not alienate one age group by pandering to another. She is not interested in trends, in capturing moments that will fade, but offers pieces that will endure. She creates forms that are fluid, that have the ability to adapt, which is the epic narrative that transcends the finite world of time and space.

“In these rapidly changing times, N:F:P fosters the concept of transition, transformation and evolution. Each piece has the ability to link, layer, fold, snap, shift or connect…ultimately encouraging each individual’s NEW FORM & PERSPECTIVE.”

 – Gail Travis

This sense of being “more than one thing” is the essence of what it means to be a modern female (career & family) and a creative-minded business owner (product development vs. sales). Even though Gail came to Beacon by chance, the location affords her the best of two worlds. The country setting feeds her desire to create, while the easy access to the city means that she can stage pop-up shops, expanding her brand visibility through unique opportunities for sales.

NFP Sweater Dress 2
http://nfpstudio.com/

As for her personal life, Gail is single but “New Form Perspective” has turned into a demanding child that requires most of her attention.

Gail at work

At the far end of Main Street, around the bend, over the train tracks, and past the waterfall, is my favorite shopping destination. “Vintage Beacon” is the women’s clothing store that is owned by Angela Hastings. Angela offers a mix of contemporary consignment and vintage. Her knack for editing was cultivated during her former life as a freelance stylist in New York City. Her affordable prices and excellent taste mean that I never leave empty-handed.

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25 East Main Street, Beacon, New York

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Originally from Iowa, Angela was living in Astoria, Queens when she discovered the town. She had already looked into retail spaces in her neighborhood, but to no avail. “I thought at the very least a landlord was required to provide you with four walls, a floor and a ceiling. Well no, not in New York City. Silly me!” And so I have the city’s absurd commercial real estate offerings and hurricane Irene to thank for her arrival. She and her boyfriend Philip had planned to visit Beacon for the day, but due to the storm and the complete shutdown of transportation, they had no choice but to prolong their stay. Though the hurricane was met with much hand-wringing and media coverage, the town fared well, and by the time Angela and Philip left, the hooks were in deep.

Vintage Beacon Finds 2
a few of my personal finds…

30th BDay A

For those seeking massage and natural methods of healing and wellness, there is “Sacred Space.” Of the five women featured, Donna Brickwood is the only native to the area.

Sacred Space
436 Main Street, Beacon, New York

Of her business, Brickwood had this to say:

“It has been a dream of mine to create a business borne of my desires. I refused to engage in a career based on the necessity of survival, working day to day feeling unfulfilled. My connection and relationship to the Earth was my greatest teacher in defining my life and career choices. This nature immersion was a way of coming home to myself, to find the true purpose of my being, and to explore the depths of life.  This was a teaching of Self Reliance, as a woman and creator of my life. I realized I no longer wanted to serve the vision of others that was not aligned with my own. I established Sacred Space as a vehicle to move towards this goal.”

Like Gail, Donna is also single so she has the ability to focus completely on her work, but she is no better or worse off than Carley or Allyson. They are simply at different stages of life. My own mother worked for most of her adult years, only taking a break while my brother and I were young. She was (and still is) a constant presence, always available to us, but through it all, she maintained her independent and creative spirit.

Mom Christian and Me
Sandra Rabin aka Journalist, Writer, Wife, Mother, Teacher, Mentor, Singer

In fairness to Miss Utah, the question she was asked was a difficult one. Instead of chastising her, what would be your answer to the query that left her grasping for words? Carley, Allyson, Gail, Angela, and Donna have all side-stepped the issue of income inequality in the workplace by starting their own businesses. For these women, the key to having it all is to turn the thing they’re passionate about into a manageable business where they can set their own hours and work as much or as little as they choose. What I love about the way Beacon is evolving, is that the women owned retail spaces are run according to the feminine sensibility. They have managed one of the most challenging yet rewarding undertakings, the freedom to do the thing they love while earning a living in the process. They are not aiming to conquer or build empires, but to be in charge of their personal domain.

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Angela Hastings

Their work is an extension of who they are and it shows in the way they greet customers. You never feel as though you’re being “sold,” but given the opportunity to buy a commodity of real value. Striking out on one’s own means additional responsibility but is more rewarding than making sacrifices for someone else’s bottom line. The reality is that gender aside, we all have to be our own champions and being a business owner is the first step towards taking control of one’s livelihood. Daenerys Targaryen might be a fictional character, but she is quickly turning into an archetype for a new type of woman that manages the right mix of power and benevolence. In the season finale of the HBO show “Game of Thrones,” she addresses a crowd of slaves she has just liberated:

“You do not owe me your freedom. I cannot give it to you. Your freedom is not mine to give. It belongs to you and you alone. If you want it back, you must take it for yourselves. Each and every one of you.”

Gail NFP
Gail Travis

The same could be said for everyone who feels undervalued at work. Most employers will pay as little as their staff is willing to accept, so know your worth and advocate to be treated accordingly. Since we have options available to us that did not exist before, ultimately it is what we think of ourselves that will decide our fate.

youknowthatthing

Author : Ashley Rabin

Here is a list of some of the shops owned by women:

Boutique NFP

BOUTIQUES & VINTAGE

New Form Perspective http://nfpstudio.com/

Vintage Beacon http://www.vintagebeacon.com

Blackbird Attic http://www.blackbirdattic.com/default.aspx

Echo http://www.echobeacon.com/

Fabrication http://www.fabricationbeacon.com/

Reservoir & Wood https://www.facebook.com/reservoirandwood

Lauren and Riley http://www.laurenandriley.com/

The Tailored Mermaid http://www.thetailoredmermaid.com/

ALTERATIONS & CUSTOM WORK

By a Thin Thread http://byathinthread.com/

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BATH & BODY
HOME & GIFT
FITNESS & WELLNESS

7 thoughts on “Beacon’s Return Part II: Siren’s Calling

  1. Thoroughly enjoyed this article. Bravo to all the ladies. I live in Beacon and love it, thanks to the great shops, the Beacon Theatre, the Howland Cultural Center and the general ambiance of the “city in the country”.

    Like

  2. Great article! I love beacon; the people, the River, the shops, the “vibe”. Not a native, but will be here 20 years this September. Recently (finally!) opened my business on Main Street and am proud to be among such fabulous company. Thanks for the mention!
    Karen Meyer, LMT
    River Therapeutic Massage

    Like

  3. Loved reading this article! So well researched. I love learning even more about the business owners in Beacon. I thought I gravitated to the female business owners, but you have confirmed that there are actually more of them! I am proud to be among them in a digital way, blogging about this great city.

    Like

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