Howe Street’s Women Entrepreneurs
Meet the women who run some of Howe Street’s most successful businesses.
Shop Local is a term I don’t take lightly, yet after living in Southport for the past two years, it recently occurred to me that there were many businesses I still knew nothing about. I developed a particular interest in Southport’s Howe Street, where I noticed that there are numerous women-owned businesses. Curiosity piqued, I set out to meet them!
In a recent study, North Carolina was ranked ninth in the nation with 328,700 women-owned businesses; a 45.8% increase for the period of 2007 to 2016. My visits to the women-owned businesses in Southport gave me an insight into the pride and passion of all women business owners for what they do, why they do it and what they receive in return.
“This is not a hobby, you work at it and work hard,” Pamela Sexton, owner of Cattail Cottage, told me.
Come with me to meet eight of Southport’s women business owners and see makes these local businesses successful.
Cat on a Whisk, established 2002
Shoefly, established 2012
After many years and long hours as a catering director in Washington, D.C., Susie Farley decided to make a major change. She bought a house in Wilmington, sold her old house in three days, quit her job and moved to Southport the day before the tragedy of 9/11. With her background in restaurants and cooking, it only seemed fitting to open a kitchen store. Retirement savings in hand, she opened Cat on a Whisk and quickly learned the store needed to be more than a kitchen store. She expanded into the gift market with bath and body products and puzzles and games for both adults and children.
“I didn’t have a business plan even though the store was already open,” Farley admits. “When you have a business, you grow it slowly.” Cat on a Whisk expanded after being open five years, and in 2012 she opened a footwear store, Shoefly. “My goal is to see the customer smile as they leave. If I can please 99.9 percent of the people, I’m happy,” she says.
She says her biggest asset is her staff. “We are family. You’ve got to like what you’re doing and like the people you’re doing it with.”
Cat on a Whisk, 600 N. Howe Street, Suite C, Southport, (910) 454-4451
Shoefly, 600 N. Howe Street, Southport, (910) 457-5070
Anti-Aging by the Sea, established 2016
“Get sun every day but be sure to use sunscreen,” says Dr. Cynthia Frazier, who recently settled in Southport. Frazier spent most of her life in Little Rock, Arkansas, attending college and pharmacy school. She became a practicing pharmacist and then continued to medical school to become an OB-GYN, focusing on fetal medicine, a subspecialty of OB-GYN, taking care of high-risk pregnancies, patients with diabetes and other medical programs. Dr. Frazier has three children; two sons who still live in Arkansas pursuing their individual careers, and a daughter who is now a Carolina girl.
Frazier says her practice has evolved from drugs and treating systems to trying to figure out why people are tired and why they have high blood pressure. “I spend a lot of time talking and listening to my patients,” she says. “Many menopausal women are looking for alternatives to hormone therapy. We offer a range of tests to find a regime that works for them so they can feel better.”
Frazier has established a monthly book club that meets at her office. Anyone is invited to hear about new medical treatments, and the best part is you don’t have to read the book.
“Maybe one day I will expand to a bigger office, more of a spa-like atmosphere, but until then I’m very happy being here in Southport,” Frazier says.
1125 N. Howe Street, Southport, (910) 444-3888, website: drcynthiafrazier.com
Thrifty by Nature, established 2011
“I want my customers to be able to buy an outfit, a beautiful bag and a set of jewelry and walk out the door with change from a twenty-dollar bill,” says Chris Lane-Cliff, owner of Thrifty by Nature, adding, “I have the most wonderful people who walk through my door.”
Lane-Cliff and her family moved to Southport from New York when she was three years old. After working many years in retail, she was hired by a local nonprofit, learning all the pros and cons of a business. But in her heart, she knew she wanted to make something of her own. In 2011 she opened Thrifty by Nature, filling it with flea market finds, donated clothing, shoes, handbags and home decor. The shop has something for everyone, all set within a boutique-type experience but on a thrift shop budget. The store is recommended to anyone in need of interview attire.
“I love my business plan, I enjoy being creative and repurposing items. I offer a good service at a price that anyone can afford,” Lane-Cliff says.
As a business owner, she is most thankful for her local customers.
“Buy local, buy local, buy local and thank you so much to those of you who do, you are our life blood, we could not be here without you,” she says.
807-B N. Howe Street, Southport, (910) 294-2421, on Facebook
Sole Searching, established 2005
Vitamin Sea, established 2009
In 2005 Rebekah Page was ready for a change and knew Southport was where it would happen. Page visited the area during summers, spending time with family and friends and eventually formed a bond to this place. Born in Lumberton, North Carolina, she began her career at the age of 15 working in retail and restaurants during her college days. After college, with a master’s degree in apparel marketing and business development, Page worked for Nike managing their factories up and down the East Coast. She also worked for Wrangler, Fruit of the Loom and Russell Athletic, crossing the globe to Portland, Charlotte, Nashville and Atlanta.
In 2005 she opened Sole Searching, offering shoes, boots and jewelry. The economy was a big challenge and changed her customer base. In 2009 she opened Vitamin Sea, an apparel store, by knocking down a wall in her current building. Some of the brands she carries are Johnny Was, Free People, Jade, Umgee and Keirin Cut Jeans.
“You need to love what you do and buy what you love,” she says. “You are constantly looking at different brands and different price points. You want to keep your store fresh and filled with new, funky, fun and unique products.”
715 N. Howe Street, Suite 2, Southport, (910) 457-0450
Cattail Cottage, established 2007
“Keep working at it, it’s not easy, it’s work constantly, it’s work 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” is the description Pamela Sexton gives of her business, Cattail Cottage. But, she adds, “I’m very lucky to have supportive family and friends.”
Sexton grew up in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, where she went to college and worked with her mother in a family-owned retail store. In 2006 she needed a change, moved to Southport and worked various jobs, including one at Bald Head Island, where she met her husband. In 2007, during their engagement, she decided to open Cattail Cottage. The original concept was country primitive, but she quickly learned that style did not fit well in this beach community. Sexton kept the cottage feel but changed her inventory. Within less than a year of being open, the economy took a nose dive. “My biggest challenge was adjusting financially to my spending habits and learning how to work with that type of economy,” she says.
The shop is thriving now and has entered the digital age with a new website and online shopping. Cattail Cottage is a one-stop shop offering candles, jewelry, stationery, home decor and large statement pieces for the home.
122 N. Howe Street, Southport, (910) 454-4533, cattailcottagenc.com
Taylor Cuisine Café & Catering, Inc., established 2005
“It’s a passion of mine, it’s hard work, but I love hearing people say thank you for being here, you have the best fried chicken,” says Karen Taylor, owner of Taylor Cuisine Café & Catering, Inc. Originally from Elmsford, New York, a town 45 minutes north of Manhattan, Taylor worked for two decades at a telecom business. After 20 years of advertising sales, she decided it was time for a change. She is no stranger to the restaurant industry as it played an important role for her family; her father was in the restaurant business while in New York. At a chance meeting, Taylor was introduced to the owner of a specialty shop in Atlanta who suggested she consider teaching cooking classes. For the next three years, she did just that, but her heart was set on owning her own business.
During that time, her parents bought their retirement home in Southport. “Southport needs a breakfast and lunch restaurant,” her father would tell her. Taylor decided to meet with the two sisters who owned what was then called Wise Café. After that meeting, she took over the restaurant and changed the look to what is now Taylor Cuisine & Café.
“This is my first business,” she says. “The community has embraced me and is very supportive. My goal is to provide quality food, consistently.” But, she admits, “Trying to please the masses is difficult.”
Her father helps around the restaurant taking care of the garden boxes that dot her parking lot. Taylor is also on the Board of Trustees for Dosher Memorial Hospital.
731 N. Howe Street, Southport, (910) 454-0088
The Adventure Kayak Company, established 2000
Emma Thomas, owner of The Adventure Kayak Company is no stranger to the outdoors. “Do what you love, and love what you do” is a sentiment that she holds dear.
A paddler for 25 plus years, her deep passion is helping people get out on the water in ways that are easy. Thomas is from Cameron, North Carolina, a graduate of UNC Greensboro with a degree in parks and recreation and she has spent more time outdoors than indoors. A job in that field brought her to Southport, where she immediately fell in love with the coastal town. In 2000 she opened The Adventure Kayak Company — the first kayak business in Brunswick County. The business started with lessons, tours and rentals and eventually expanded to a retail shop.
Thomas works with local youth programs, community parks and recreation departments, after-school programs and group homes. She also assisted in the start-up of a Wounded Warrior Kayak program for Camp Lejeune. “It’s a very humbling experience when groups comment on the sense of peace they feel by being out on the water,” she says. “One of my favorite outings was with a group of young adults from the North Carolina Association of the Blind. We thought we were the teachers, but it turned out they taught us more about listening to our surroundings, the sense of touch and even the sense of smell.”
Thomas says she treasures the Southport community: “The community works well together with local businesses, and the local businesses work well with the community. We need each other’s support.”
807 N. Howe Street, Southport, (910) 454-0607, theadventurecompany.net
Side Street Bakery, established 2013
“I bake every day, all day, except Sunday,” says Christina Willetts, owner of Side Street Bakery.
Willetts moved to Southport from Cameron, West Virginia, at age 17, when her father retired. The first person she met in Southport is her husband of 30 years. Over the years, she babysat for a local family until one day she and her sister started a cleaning business and worked alongside each other for 15 years.
While working in that business, Willetts improved her cake decorating skills by taking classes on creating flowers out of frosting. “I have always loved to decorate cakes; my mother was the best teacher,” she says. In 2011 she met the previous owner of Side Street Bakery and became their cake decorator. During that time, the owner became ill, requiring medical care. After two years, the owner decided to close and Willets was offered the opportunity to take over the business.
“The challenges for me were learning how to order supplies and how to buy in bulk and then figuring out where to store everything,” Willetts says. In 2013 she moved the bakery to its present location on Howe Street.
When you walk into the bakery, you may notice a familiar dough boy character; he is everywhere. “When I got married, I started collecting this character,” Willets says. “Sometimes folks will come in and bring me a piece they found at a yard sale; I keep them all.” Be sure to come back at Christmas to see her tree decorated with dough boy ornaments.
The bakery’s refrigerated cases are filled with cookies, cupcakes, cakes, cheesecakes and bar cookies. Her favorites are the lemon bars and carrot cake.
Her words of wisdom for bakers? “If it flops, throw it in the trash and do it again; that’s the only way you’re going to learn.”
417 N. Howe Street, Southport, (910) 363-4629, sidestreetbakery.net
The Path to Success
“There is no royal flower-strewn path to success. And if there is, I have not found it, for if I have accomplished anything in life it is because I have been willing to work hard.” – Madam C.J. Walker, America’s first female entrepreneur millionaire.
These eight female entrepreneurs know the meaning of hard work. It’s their pride and passion that gives them strength. There are many more women-owned businesses in Southport, and to each of them and the women mentioned above, we toast your pride, your passion and your hard work as you travel your path to success.