What has more energy than a barrel of monkeys?
For one, the group of women assembled in Five Little Monkeys Quilt and Sew in Weaverville on a recent afternoon. All own businesses in Weaverville’s downtown district, a bustling hamlet that puts the lie to the notion of small towns as sleepy places where nothing much ever happens.
As classic rock blares through the brightly lit space and shoppers admire colorful fabric, the entrepreneurs discuss how Weaverville has evolved into a locus of women-owned enterprises.
“I feel like there’s a lot of opportunity for collaboration in this town,” says Angie Lamoree, the shop’s owner and the organizer of the gathering. In less than 24 hours, she’s managed to pull together more than a dozen female business owners to chat with Xpress.
“These are just the ones who could make it,” she says. “A lot more wanted to be here but were too busy.”
Beth Mangum, who owns Mangum Pottery with her husband and serves as the current president of the Weaverville Business Association, says even she and Lamoree were surprised to realize how many of the town’s businesses are owned by women. “We were talking about how many women-owned businesses there were here, and we started making a list, and it just kept growing. It was like, wow, that’s most of the businesses in town,” says Mangum.
According to 2016 census data, 53 percent of management, business and financial operations in Weaverville are run by women, well above the national average of 45 percent.
The cheerful hubbub of the gathered business owners is nothing new to Lamoree: She’s used to happy chaos in her shop.
“We have five kids — that’s how we got the name. Our youngest was 3 years old when we opened the business.”
Lamoree says she took up quilting after going through a divorce while raising two toddlers and a newborn. “I thought it would be good therapy,” she says. “And it was. Quilting is very therapeutic.”
After remarrying, Lamoree bought a long-arm sewing machine to stitch quilt tops together with layers of batting and backing. She used the machine to run a home-based quilting business for eight years. About 18 months ago, she took the plunge and opened her Main Street store.
“I don’t know why I did it. I was crazy,” she says, laughing. “My husband got in a car accident and hurt his back. He couldn’t work, so we took the pathetic settlement and parlayed it to open the brick-and-mortar. It was just enough for a down payment on the business loan.”
Right next door, another new business has set up shop. Kimberly Young, owner of Sassy Jacks Stitchery, says her landlord initially worried the two stitching-related businesses might be “adversarial.” In fact, the opposite has turned out to be true. “The reality is that we have a lot of the same demographic and are very complementary,” Young says.
Young and Lamoree don’t even have to go outside to visit one another’s shops — an interior door connects the two businesses.
“We do a lot of things together,” says Lamoree. “We’re doing a block-of-the-month right now, where people hand-stitch a block each month, and then I’ve made a kit so they can take their stitching and turn it into a wall hanging or a lap quilt.”
“Angie and I do strategy meetings every week,” says Young. “She had an event a couple of weeks ago, and I helped her set up. And I had an event about a month ago, and she came and helped me.”
Breaking the mold
If sewing and needlework are traditionally female hobbies, classic cars are, well, not. But 28-year-old Lara Vernon has managed to turn her passion for unusual automobiles into Rare Exotic Vehicles, a car sales and rental company. Offerings listed on the company’s website range from a red 1964 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu SS listed at $36,995 to a wood-paneled 1995 Buick Roadmaster Wagon Estate that will set you back $4,800.
“I grew up gawking at exotic cars, reading all the magazines,” Vernon says. “I’ve always loved anything on wheels with an engine.”
She’s been living her dream since launching REV in 2016, but the realities of the business can be daunting: “Sometimes we do great one month and struggle the next,” Vernon says.
To build a more consistent and sustainable business, REV has started renting its classic cars for weddings, events and guided tours. Vernon says it’s the only service of its kind in the area. “We do a [Blue Ridge] Parkway tour, a brewery tour, an Asheville city tour, and we’re working with some of the local art galleries now to do an art gallery tour in the northern Asheville area,” she explains. “We do date nights, proms, you name it — and we’re the chauffeurs.”
The art of community
Leah Baker is the owner and curator of Artisans on Main, an art gallery and store that features the work of artists in the Weaverville community and surrounding areas.
“I represent over 40 local and regional artists, and we house five working studios,” says Baker. “It’s like a little bit of River Arts in downtown Weaverville.”
One of those studios is where Baker makes her own work, creating lamps under the name Luminosa Lighting. “The building I rent now became available right at a time when I needed to move my studio,” she says. “I wasn’t really planning to open a store, but it just made sense to step out onto that branch and make it happen.”
Mangum’s shop is next door to Artisans on Main; she introduced Baker to her landlord and to some of the artists Baker now represents in her gallery. “I think that we have been really good at networking and providing connections for each other,” Mangum says.
Brandi Bailey, owner of Aabani Salon next door on Artisans on Main’s other side, is “always sending her clients over here when they’re waiting on their hair appointments,” Baker says.
Baker enjoys paying it forward by sending people to other nearby businesses when there’s an opportunity. “Cross-pollinating abounds in Weaverville. It’s a close-knit community,” she says.
Out on the town
Weaverville owes much of its success as a shopping destination to a handful of special events the town puts on every year, Art in Autumn chief among them. The full-day arts and crafts festival in downtown Weaverville took place on Sept. 15 this year.
“When I first joined the group, Art in Autumn was in its infancy, and now about 12 years later, it’s a standard, fabulous event for Main Street and for the community,” says Cindy Ward, owner of Weaverville Realty and the immediate past president of the Weaverville Business Association.
“Since then, we put the Candlelight Stroll on, and just a couple of years ago, we did the Music on Main event, which was kind of a Downtown After Five event,” Ward says. “We’ve only done two of those, but we are hoping to do more.”
Coming up on Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 3-4, the Weaverville Art Safari will present a fall studio tour from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. each day, with a preview party Friday, Nov. 2, 6-8 p.m., and many of Weaverville’s woman-owned businesses will take part.
Caroline Zocher, owner of Mountain Massage Studios, relishes the community spirit that comes out when the town throws one of its big events. “One of our favorite things is our whole neighborhood gets up 4, 5 a.m. and comes down to help all the vendors set up [for Art in Autumn],” she says. “And then there’s the candlelight stroll that we have and Art Safari. All the things we do, we really love to be a part of it together.”
Another thing Zocher enjoys is the scale of living and working in Weaverville. “It’s nice to be a bigger fish in a smaller bowl,” she says.
The town’s supportive business community, Lamoree says, has helped women of different ages and stages of life overcome the initial obstacles to business ownership. “Being a female business owner is more common than it used to be, but I feel like it still comes with its own challenges,” she says. “I think that this being a small town in the South, we’re probably somewhat of an oddity.”