Subscribe to The Brown Daily Herald Newsletter

Sign up for The Brown Daily Herald’s daily newsletter to stay up to date with what is happening at Brown and on College Hill no matter where you are right now!

Subscribe

Metro, News

Four women-owned small businesses based in Providence

Female entrepreneurs discuss past, present future of businesses

By
Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Providence is home to a variety of small businesses, affording each neighborhood of the city a certain charm and, for visitors and residents alike, the possibility of exploration. While there has been a significant increase in the number of women-owned businesses across the nation, recent studies still show that women are underrepresented in the field of entrepreneurship: Only 17 percent of startups in the United States have a female founder.

Additionally, facing the wage gap in the United States, which leaves women — especially women of color — earning less than their counterparts in most fields, initiatives across the country seek to create space for women in the world of entrepreneurship. Whether to gain autonomy in the workplace or to pursue long-held passions, women in Providence continue to venture into the city’s entrepreneurial sector, breathing new life into the world of small business.

Lore

“I want my work to mean something to me,” said Jayna Aronovitch, owner of Lore. The curated lifestyle shop just off of Wickenden Street is a hub for artists, sporting colorful creations from around Providence and beyond.

As an artist herself, Aronovitch turned to the world of entrepreneurship after years of working for big companies where she felt undervalued. “If I’m not going to make a lot of money (regardless as an artist) I might as well do my own thing,” she said.

In 2014, Aronovitch and a friend began selling inventory from local artists on consignment throughout the West Side neighborhood of Providence. Through this and her education at art school, Aronovitch developed a knack for curating — picking certain items to sell and “creating community” through the curation of her products.

“When you walk into a boutique … and you have that feeling of ‘I like it’ or ‘I don’t…’ that’s where curating a mood or aesthetic” comes in, she said. “You create that space where you’re just inspiring people … just being an artist, I think I’m a little more refined in my ability to understand craft and really try to bring people stuff that’s a little nicer.”

Eventually, Aronovitch founded Lore, a business where she buys inventory from local artists and sells them at her storefront.

Jack Walker / Herald

Local small businesses Lore, Paper Nautilus, Ceremony and Botanical Creations are all female-founded ventures.

“I’ve always worked retail, I’ve always been a shopgirl,” she said. “So that’s something I was really comfortable with … that’s the stuff I’ve been doing my entire life.”

Aronovitch advocates for the financial stability of local artists, offering a venue that supports their craft and compensates the labor that goes into it. “We were interested in doing more social good,” she said, “supporting other makers through a curated shop.”

In working so closely with artists, Lore allows “people to be a little bit more appreciative of the things that they spend money on” because “they understand that there’s real people trying to earn a living” involved, Aronovitch added.

Additionally, Aronovitch has looked to give a platform to underrepresented groups in entrepreneurship and the art world as a whole by focusing on handmade and fairtrade items as well as women and minority-owned businesses.

“It’s really important. I want women to be entrepreneurs and work for themselves, because we do have a big pay equity gap in our country,” Aronovitch added. “I want them to be getting paid what they want to be paid” and to “have that equal pay experience because they’re in control of their own business.”

All in all, Aronovitch loves the freedom her work provides and the room for exploration it brings.

“That’s what I love about being creative,” she said. “Every day is not the same, and every day you’re challenged in different ways.”

Paper Nautilus

Every wall filled with gently used paperbacks, there is a story to be told wherever you turn in the Wayland Square bookstore Paper Nautilus. Likewise, for owner Kristin Sollenberger, the bookstore itself comes with history, home to her first steps into the world of entrepreneurship.

As an artist, Sollenberger came to Rhode Island to attend Rhode Island School of Design, also working part-time at Cellar Stories Bookstore in downtown Providence. “I just loved books and the fact that, at a used bookstore, you could get a whole pile of books for twenty dollars,” she said.

After she had worked at the shop for five years, the store’s owners announced that the branch location, Providence Bookstore Cafe, was closing down. Hearing this, Sollenberger bought out the branch’s inventory, and, in 1996, moved around the corner to start a business of her own.

“That’s how I got into it, I guess — just a love of books and kind of happenstance,” she said.

 

Courtesy of Kristin Sollenberger

Local small businesses Lore, Paper Nautilus, Ceremony and Botanical Creations are all female-founded ventures.

 

Entrepreneurship runs in Sollenberger’s family. “I come from a family of businesspeople … my father was an accounting professor, then my brother has his MBA … (and) my mother is a bookkeeper,” she said.

Despite overall support in her business, Sollenberger has encountered occasional challenges in her work. A self-described woman of smaller stature, she occasionally encounters customers who  “don’t expect (the store’s owner) to be a woman,” and instead “address questions to the most mature man standing near the front desk.”

Still, owning a small business has extended Sollenberger’s freedom, which, as a mother, has been especially crucial.

“Because I own my own business I was able to bring my daughter to work as an infant. But I also had to go back to work after just a week or two because I own my own business,” she added. Still, “there is some flexibility that is helpful to parenting.”

For Sollenberger, “the shop is a reflection of (herself) and it is difficult to let another hand take hold of the brush,” making it hard to delegate work to others.

“I know the stock best, I know what people are asking for,” Sollenberger added. “For whatever reason, I created this thing that does best when I am there.”

Ceremony

Located on an otherwise hectic Thayer Street, Ceremony creates a peaceful refuge for Providence passersby, offering them an authentic tea drinking experience paired with a sleek interior design. Through traditional tea ceremonies and a menu rife with exotic flavors, Ceremony also fosters an understanding of East Asian cuisine and the culture intertwined with it.

Before creating the business, “I reminisced (about) fond memories of my grandmother serving tea to the family before and after a family meal, and I steeped in that warm ritual of bringing the family together with ease,” store owner Michelle Cheng wrote in an email to The Herald. “I knew in my heart that I needed to bring the healing ritual of tea to as many people as I could, and I began applying my sourcing skills to importing teas.”

Jack Walker / Herald

Local small businesses Lore, Paper Nautilus, Ceremony and Botanical Creations are all female-founded ventures.

But, with experience working in New York as a consultant importing products from other countries, Cheng did not want her business to reproduce importation practices that leave farmers vulnerable, like she had witnessed in her career.

The tea house’s rotating menu of exotic flavors comes “directly (from) single estate farms and producers across Asia” to ensure sustainability and support for the growers, she added.

Still, starting out, others did not always see Cheng’s vision with the clarity she did, as she was turned down multiple times by banks and other private institutions that she needed a loan from.

“It (could) be frustrating at first, but it helped me realize that I am building something that no one else in the state is offering,” she added. “It became even more important for me to succeed, so I can share this concept that is part of my culture with the rest of the community.”

Cheng’s family immigrated to the United States from China when she was a young child, and her father “had to take on a job he wasn’t passionate (about) just to put food on the table,” she wrote. When Cheng moved to Rhode Island to pursue her entrepreneurial dreams, she inspired her father to do the same, and he quit his job to start his own acupuncture business.

Entrepreneurship “is a huge gamble for a family who gave up everything in China to immigrate to a new country with barely $1000 in their bank account,” Cheng wrote. Nevertheless, “I am proud to say my father and I have both achieved our American dream,” she wrote.

“I opened Ceremony weeks before COVID hit … (and) by March I was 6 months pregnant,” Cheng wrote. “I am incredibly lucky in the sense that I have a supportive family, loyal friends and staff, I could not have gotten through those months without them.”

Botanical Creations

At a market in downtown Providence, delicate flower arrangements rest on a white-and-gold tablecloth, each uniquely framed and stylized as if to tell a story of their own. For Brigida Capicotto, the founder of Botanical Creations and maker of every design, flowers do exactly that — capture a memory where words fail.

“I really hated throwing flowers away when they started to wilt,” especially since they often came with “a meaning behind them or a memory,” she said. “That’s why I wanted to start getting into flower pressing, to preserve those moments.”

Throughout her life, Capicotto has had business influences all around her, ranging from her father’s engineering ventures to her coworkers’ entrepreneurial side-projects. Powering through a steep learning curve, what initially began as a hobby for Capicotto gradually became something more. She began to share her flower pressing creations on Instagram and, just over one year ago, followed in her colleagues’ footsteps, creating a business of her own.

Courtesy of Brigida Capicotto

Local small businesses Lore, Paper Nautilus, Ceremony and Botanical Creations are all female-founded ventures.

“I was nervous at first,” Capicotto said. Given mainstream representations of entrepreneurs as primarily male, Silicon Valley-types, she encountered feelings of imposter syndrome while “trying to figure everything out,” wondering whether her business would be a long-lasting endeavor.

The support that she received from others helped Capicotto push through initial challenges. “When I started to tell my friends they were all really excited,” and others were “really interested” because flower pressing was not something they saw every day, she said.

With hard work, Botanical Creations expanded from an Instagram-only operation to a business, complete with an Etsy page and booths at open-air markets around the city.

“What I think has really helped me and made it a lot easier is just seeing how many other small businesses are run by women,” Capicotto said. “Providence is really great in that there are so many creative people that are around and doing their own thing, walking to the beat of their own drum. And they’re always open to giving you advice and their own tips,” she added.

Capicotto encouraged other women to take a leap of faith and pursue the projects they are interested in.

“Stop thinking about it and just do it,” she said. “You’re going to learn as you go, and, if you fall down, the important thing is keep getting back up and be focused on being unique to your own ideas and just staying strong with that.”

Editor’s Note: Due to editing errors, a previous version of this article included two paragraphs discussing Paper Nautilus under the section on Lore, in place of paragraphs discussing Lore. The paragraphs have been moved to the correct section and those describing Lore have been added in.

To stay up-to-date, subscribe to our daily newsletter.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*