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December 18, 2012 10:06 PM

Small Business Sisterhood

sioux falls, sd

It's ladies night every night in downtown Sioux Falls; lady entrepreneurs that is.  There is a higher than average concentration of women-owned businesses in the city's center.  And while you might think the extra estrogen could lead to fierce competition among shop owners, it's actually creating a cohesive sisterhood.

On Phillips Avenue, Summer Wagner rings up two customers Christmas shopping at Lillians.  For the last two years, the mother of two has overseen every detail in this occasional-clothing boutique. She hand picks every item in stock, labels inventory and manages the stores five female employees.

"I thought the women who shopped downtown would be very supportive to the kind of business that I have and they are," Wagner said.

Wagner is among an unusually large percentage of women entrepreneurs in downtown Sioux Falls. She says there is a strong sisterhood.

"When you got here this morning, the business owner of Home Porch was here. She was checking out the store before the public got in today. We are a pretty close knit group of people," Wagner said.

"They're supportive. They know what each other is going through," The Bead Co. owner Melanie Erickson said.

Just up the street, The Bead Co's decorated downtown. The unique spirit of the area drew Erickson to take her passion of jewelry making into a full-time business.

"I think that is why there are so many women downtown," Erickson said. "It is all about the passion. I love what I do. I am passionate about it. I care about my business.  I care about my customers; I care about my employees."

Downtown Sioux Falls is ahead of a trend. Nationally, women have started businesses at a higher rate than men for the last 20 years. Women are expected to create over half of the nearly 10 million new small business jobs in the next five years, according to data released by the National Federation of Independent Business. It's a surprising statistic, considering women-owned businesses only created 16 percent of the total U.S. jobs that existed just two years ago.

Downtown Sioux Falls' Maureen Ohm isn't surprised. She's tallied well over 35 women-owned businesses the city's center.

"It's kind of amazing. I don't think people even realize we have that many businesses downtown," Ohm said.

Ohm says the girl power environment fosters collaboration that makes each business stronger.

"You know, they work together on promotions.  They look out for each other; they shop at each other's stores," Ohm said. "So this collaborative experience downtown might be one of the reasons why they like it here."

Wagner says there is friendly competition between businesses. And in the age old battle of the sexes, she adds the female entrepreneurs may have an edge over their male counterparts.

"I think women know women better than men know women and we know what women want," Wagner said. "So I think yeah, we probably have a slight advantage, yeah."

Looking ahead, all business owners we spoke to expect the number of women-owned business, and their bond, will only get stronger.

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