Business

Meet Marion's 'Uptown Girls,' the united front of women-owned businesses

Gae Sharp-Richardson puts on an apron as she prepares to box chocolates at her store, The Chocolate Shop, in Uptown Mari
Gae Sharp-Richardson puts on an apron as she prepares to box chocolates at her store, The Chocolate Shop, in Uptown Marion. (Grace King/The Gazette)
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MARION — An advertisement in the January 2020 Cedar Rapids Tourism guide is already uniting women business owners in Uptown Marion.

When Gae Sharp-Richardson, owner of The Chocolate Shop in Uptown Marion, reached out to 15 fellow women business owners to place a joint ad in the tourism guide, she received overwhelming yeses.

The idea came to the longtime business owner in Uptown Marion after hearing people refer to it as a ghost town, she said.

“I have had a business here for 13 years, and I see it more vibrant in the last couple years especially than any time,” she said. “I had this feeling that I just wanted to shout it from the mountain top, ‘We are here, we are here.’”

Sharp-Richardson created the “Uptown Girls — Marion” Facebook page and organized a photo shoot with Uptown Marion photographer Cast of Thousands Photography for the ad, which features 16 women with the name of their business beneath their photo.

The Facebook page, although created for the business owners to communicate with each other, went public in October, and quickly began accumulating likes.

Sharp-Richardson saw it as an opportunity to present a united front of women-owned businesses, championing each other and hopefully bringing more customers to the area.

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“United we stand, divided we fall,” Sharp-Richardson said. “It’s smart to support each other, and it’s nice to have each other’s back.”

Sharp-Richardson said getting to know neighboring business owners is not only beneficial to Uptown Marion, but it also benefits customers.

“It’s a fun way for us to cross-sell,” said Lisa Gilliatt, who co-owns The Grill Works with her husband Brian Gilliatt.

Gilliatt was one of the women invited to participate in the Uptown Girls ad by Sharp-Richardson. She said the opportunity has taught her about businesses in Uptown she didn’t even know about.

“It’s a fun opportunity,” Gilliatt said. “Marion is a very loyal community, and we have a lot of great customers.”

Gilliatt and her husband have held their business in Marion for 10 years. She believes small businesses offer something box stores can’t: a friendship with their customers.

Lora Dodd-Brosseau, florist at Lily and Rose Floral Studio, opened shop in February. As a newcomer to Uptown, she was excited to be asked to be a part of Uptown Girls, and she’s found her fellow business owners to be very welcoming, she said.

“I’m kind of the new kid on the block,” Dodd-Brosseau said. “I think it already has (created community), and it will continue to grow.”

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Dodd-Brosseau said supporting other women-owned businesses is important to her. In her shop alone, she sells items from 10 other vendors — from local honey to greeting cards, candles and bath products.

Deb Weiser, owner of DKW Gallery & Studios, found being a part of Uptown Girls is opening doors to collaborate more.

Already, she collaborates with the Marion Public Library, Roots in Bloom and Brick Alley Pub.

But Uptown Girls is different.

“Once you get a group of women together, the whole world can change,” Weiser said.

Weiser chose Uptown Marion as the location for her studio three years ago because it’s an “up-and-coming arts community,” she said.

There also were no openings at NewBo.

“When we came here, we had to make some sacrifices,” she said. “We moved from a home into a two-bedroom apartment. But here we have wonderful clients and 22 artists, who are so talented and so inspiring.”

Weiser said women business owners can offer something “special” to their customers.

“Women have that natural nurturing that spills into their clientele or customers,” she said.

Comments: (319) 368-8664; grace.king@thegazette.com

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