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Jumping off: local women entrepreneurs share their stories By Ali Korn '21

A large group of women gathered in Westport recently to discuss what was on their minds; however, they weren’t just gossiping over brunch or talking about the latest fashion or beauty trends, they were discussing women entrepreneurship in Westport and their roles in the business world.

The event was held in The White Barn at the Westport Country Playhouse, and was standing-room only with around 100 people, mostly women.

On April 9, the owners of The Granola Bar, JL Rocks and West participated in a panel titled “Westport Means Business” led by Second Selectwoman Jennifer Tooker. The theme of the evening was “jumping off,” as the panel discussed the ideas of launching their own businesses, taking risks and working to increase the economic vitality of Westport.

Melanie Myers, the Westport Library's Director of Organization and Management, gave the opening speech for the panel. The Westport Library sponsored the event.

“Westport is not only a place to live and grow a family, but also launch a business,” Tooker said. Each of the women shared their own personal experiences with owning a business in Westport and the struggles they face.

Each of the women shared their own personal experiences with owning a business in Westport and the struggles they faced.

Kitt Shapiro has lived in Westport for over 17 years and was unsatisfied with the clothing store options in the town. She finally found a store that she loved, but when she found out it was closing, she had to do something to save it. She recently acquired the women’s boutique clothing store West, and has been learning the ropes of the retail world.

“I know that retail has changed[…]but I truly believe that local business and local retailers are not going to go anywhere because we are the foundation,” Shapiro said.

She feels that human contact is the key to success and has worked to create an environment where people feel welcomed and embraced.

Jamie Camche, founder and owner of JL Rocks, took a leap of faith when she opened her jewelry store 18 years ago. Having never dealt with the financial aspect of business, owning a store seemed daunting at first. However, with the help of her husband and friends, she managed to find her way and become very successful. She finds the most rewarding part of her store to be “giving back to this town.”

Dana Noorily and Julie Levitt launched their flagship location of The Granola Bar in 2013 and have since opened six more restaurants. It all started when they met at a children’s birthday party and became friends, finding a hobby of making granola together. Eventually, it evolved into the idea of starting a restaurant. They discussed the many struggles they faced as women in the entrepreneurship world.

“We face certain challenges that men who run businesses just don’t, and that’s okay and it drives us,” Levitt said.

They also spoke about how having young kids posed its own struggles, but also how their kids drove them to succeed and be good role models.

“When you run your own business it’s 24/7… the line is blurred between work and home,” Noorily said.

Similarly, one thing that Zoe Barnett ’19 finds to be the hardest part about being a young entrepreneur is balancing school work with her jewelry business.

“It’s hard to stay on top of homework while simultaneously fulfilling orders,” Barnett said, “but it’s also a challenge that adds to the lessons I’ve learned from running a business.”

There were many common themes expressed by all of the women, especially as related to balancing work and home, struggling in the business world and hoping to encourage the next generation of entrepreneurs. However, overall they felt that Westport was a very supportive town and environment for female entrepreneurs. All of the women advised young entrepreneurs to seek out a mentor and get advice from more experienced adults and most importantly to follow their gut.

All photos by Ali Korn '21

Credits:

Photos by Ali Korn '21

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