‘Backbone of our economy.’ Small businesses in downtown State College highlighted in tour
Several downtown State College businesses were highlighted Thursday while members of Governor Josh Shapiro’s administration toured minority-owned and woman-owned small businesses.
Department of Community and Economic Development Executive Deputy Secretary Mike Hanna, Deputy Secretary of Marketing, Tourism and Film Carrie Fischer Lepore and Central Regional Director Madra Clay visited Juana’s, S’Hair-Eng Styling Salon, Kitchen Kaboodle, Growing Tree Toys and Chew Chew Bun to celebrate Small Business Week.
Hanna said it was a “wonderful treat” to learn about the different diverse businesses throughout downtown.
“Small businesses, they’re the backbone of our economy here in Pennsylvania,” Hanna said. “It’s a keystone of Governor Shapiro’s administration in making sure that we’re doing what we can to make sure that those small businesses can grow here, can start here and be prosperous.”
Shapiro’s 2023-24 budget proposal calls for a $20 million infusion of capital into the Historically Disadvantaged Business Assistance Program, according to a press release. The program supports minority-owned and woman-owned small businesses.
“The Governor’s budget also calls for an $8.6 million increase for the Keystone Communities program to support improvements in Pennsylvania Main Streets, particularly in rural and less affluent communities,” the release states. “This influx will help boost small businesses by supporting vibrant and successful communities where Pennsylvanians and visitors want to live, shop, eat, and more.”
Centre County Commissioners, State College Mayor Ezra Nanes and state Rep. Paul Takac also tagged along for the tour, which was led in part by Downtown State College Improvement District Executive Director Lee Anne Jeffries. The group heard from business owners about the challenges of owning a small business and what has helped make them successful.
Adianez Martinez, owner of Juana’s, a restaurant that serves authentic Venezuelan food, said she immediately fell in love with the downtown State College community when she first moved here and her business has thrived. Prior to opening her restaurant at 129 S. Fraser St., State College, she found success selling her food at the farmers market.
With the help and encouragement of her friends and family, she made the decision to open a space downtown. It was a hard but “beautiful process,” she said. Clay asked how the state could help small businesses like hers; Martinez said more financial support to grow would be helpful. Takac suggested a potential place for the state to invest in is the local food truck economy, as many food trucks have gone on to open a full restaurant throughout Happy Valley.
Just around the corner from Juana’s is S’Hair-Eng Styling Salon, a beauty salon owned by Vivian Y. Black. She has two senior designers, Cary Taylor and Ausha Williams-Carswell. The salon has been at 139 Kelly Alley, State College, since 2005.
The biggest challenge they’ve had, Black said, was after COVID-19.
“We didn’t have a problem reopening. It was the problem of getting open from the state because the state opened us at a different time than the state opened in general, because the state inspectors had to come in and re-inspect us before we could open,” Black said. “All of our fluids that we use had to be measured differently, and we had to use a different mixture for cleaning the furniture and the door knobs.”
Katie Dawes has owned Kitchen Kaboodle, a kitchen, home and gift store at 104 W. Beaver Ave., State College, since 1987.
“We have to pivot, change with the times, which we’ve done with product categories. So we’re kitchen on this side and we’re more soft goods on the other side,” Dawes said, pointing around the store. “We’ve got a little bit of everything for everyone.”
The store has a great partnership with Tait Farm, Dawes said, which can be seen around the store. Local vendors, like Tait Farm and another local coffee vendor they stock, are important to have, she said.
Nearby at Growing Tree Toys, the tour group heard from owner Lindsay Jones, who purchased the store from the former owner. During the pandemic, she tried to come up with different ways to be creative and collaborated with Dawes and other business owners to promote each other’s stores on social media. That helped keep State College “small,” she said, and be able to have relationship and community building.
Chew Chew Bun, an Asian bakery, recently relocated to 115 E. Beaver Ave., State College, from the Nittany Mall. Owner Skye Chang attended Penn State and moved to California after he graduated. He later moved back to State College and he noticed that an Asian bakery was still something missing from town. His mom, who is the main baker at Chew Chew Bun, would bake traditional pastries at home and Chang thought that would be a good start to bring to State College.
After about two years of selling items online from their home, they saw the full potential and started looking for a commercial space to increase production, which they found in the mall. Then, when the store downtown became available, Chang knew it was “the perfect spot” and they jumped at the opportunity.
Traffic increased when they relocated, Chang said, and the community has been great.