Block party puts spotlight on businesswomen
By Miles Smith
One by one, empty storefronts have been disappearing in Lockhart as entrepreneurs have continuously brought innovative ideas and put them into practice here in the Caldwell County seat.
Wendy Ramsey, owner of Wendy R Gifts, estimates about 75-80 percent of these difference-makers who either own or co-own a business in Lockhart are women.
To celebrate this trend, Ramsey, Loop and Lil’s co-owner Miranda Nunez-Platt, Inta Mint boutique owner Cindy Gibeaux and Logos owner Janet Grigar are looking to organize a group photo and hold a Boss Ladies Block Party celebration on Saturday, May 11 on the Caldwell County Courthouse lawn to showcase the community’s female trailblazers.
All women business owners and co-owners in Lockhart are invited to participate in the photo, which Ramsey said would be taken at 12:30 p.m. on May 11.
“We really wanted to celebrate so much of what is happening downtown, and is happening because women are doing it,” said Ramsey, a former speech therapist who has owned and operated Wendy R gifts in its current Main Street location for the past 11 years. “I felt downtrodden about downtown Lockhart for awhile, but then people started moving in and bringing a contagious creativity.
“We’ve become a little society of women business owners. We get along, and I think we have a good mix of people down here who learns from one another.”
The celebration will start at noon in downtown Lockhart and continue until 4 p.m. Vendors will set up in the downtown square and female-led bands will play to the crowds.
Ramsey said being a business owner has helped her explore her creative side.
“I love the social aspect of it, like greeting the tourists who come into town, and I love being surrounded by pretty things,” Ramsey said. “It feeds a creative side of me. It’s fun. Unlike being a speech therapist, which is a really serious line of work, this is relaxed, social, creative and has an easygoing feel to it.”
Suffice it to say, every business owner’s story is different.
Grigar, who started Logos in 1986, opened the business when she saw a conspicuous error on the back of one of her children’s sports uniforms.
“My kids started going to kindergarten in 1985 or so, and they started getting involved in all the youth sports, like soccer,” Grigar said. “The uniforms were coming out of San Antonio, and on one of the teams, the names of one of the sponsors was misspelled on the back of the uniform.
“I got to thinking I could probably do this better than someone somewhere else. JJ and I were both working in Austin and not getting involved in our community, so we decided we’d start this business.”
Grigar gave up a job working for the state to open her Main Street shop, which is a major stop for unique Lockhart memorabilia. She said she’s enjoyed being her own boss.
“My only regret is if I’d stayed with the state I’d have retired by now,” she laughed. “But I don’t know what I’d do if I wasn’t working … besides travel, or spend more time with the grandchildren. I like what we do. We’ve made so many friends and gotten to know so many people from having this business.”
Smitty’s Market owner Nina Sells opened her now-iconic restaurant on Commerce Street in 1999, and will celebrate the 20th anniversary of her grand opening in September.
You can find Sells – and her husband, Jim Sells – at Smitty’s every day, where she presides over her team of servers, cooks and carvers who sell hand-cut steaks in her market as well as pit-smoked barbecue in her restaurant. Twenty years later, she says she’s found the daily grind of hard work to be an experience she’s appreciated.
“I think it’s been very rewarding for me to be able to serve the public,” she said. “We really started out from scratch, and it’s so rewarding to be able to provide good meals to the public in an atmosphere that people want to come see. People from all over the world come through here.”
Sells’ restaurant – along with Black’s, Kreuz and Chisholm Trail – have long drawn people in from out of town who want to experience Lockhart’s famous barbecue. But she said she appreciates both the bustling environment brought on by the other businesses as well as the work those owners had to put into them.
“It was difficult for me because I financed my home and spent my own money to start this business,” Sells said. “It costs money to start a business, and I admire the business owners who are coming in (to Lockhart) because I know it isn’t cheap. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.”
Jen Sparks owns Rollfast Ranchwear with her husband, Ben Sparks. Their store’s inventory has grown steadily since they opened their doors a couple of years ago, offering American-made denim, western shirts, blouses and dresses, and even Lucchese cowboy boots.
Despite the full complement of unique Western garb, there’s one thing that’s been a big seller for the shop on San Antonio Street – a simple cow design on a t-shirt that Ben says has stayed in demand.
“That sense of style is what Jen does,” said Ben Sparks. “It’s what Jen does. Our cow logo feeds us. I’m the tool for her vision. She’s responsible for the look and feel of our brand.”
Jen Sparks is a busy woman – she helps take care of the shop while caring for the couple’s 10-week-old daughter, Louise.
“I get a lot of time at home, but it’s been challenging to look after her while running the shop. I have to close occasionally to feed her. That’s one good thing (about it being your business) – you can close if you have to,” Jen Sparks said.
Mara Jabsen owns Lulu’s Lunch Box at 106 N. Main Street. Lulu’s, which has evolved into a favorite lunch spot famous for its homestyle meatloaf as well as other soups, salads and sandwiches, isn’t her only gig. She also works full time for Bluebonnet Trails in youth and family services.
Jabsen says it’s unintentional, but her business is staffed entirely by women, who she commended with doing a great job keeping things running while she works full time.
“I really have some incredible employees,” she said. “They’ve made it possible for me to go back to work.”
Alexandra Worthington, who owns The Culinary Room with business partner Alana Chandler, opened the doors to her company about a year ago and said she likes what’s happening downtown.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “It’s been a man’s world for so long and here we are – women taking over Lockhart.”
As for the Boss Lady Block Party on May 11, Worthington said she was looking forward to celebrating her fellow women who own businesses.
“I would say it’s about time!” she said. “I’ll be there. I think it will be great to see everyone there celebrating each other.”