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Brook Nalle and Hilary Baxendale listen to Melissa Thompson at Harper’s.

Women share pointers for setting up shop

By Kris DiLorenzo

DOBBS FERRY — The Dobbs Ferry Chamber of Commerce’s first Women’s Networking Event drew a vocal crowd to Harper’s Restaurant and Bar last week.

The March 1 gathering attracted a high-energy group of 42 who first heard guest speaker Helene Godin, owner of the gluten-free By the Way Bakery, talk about her experience setting up a successful small business, then chatted informally and exchanged business cards with one another over wine and hors d’oeuvres.

Since setting up shop on Warburton Avenue in Hastings six years ago, Godin, a former attorney, has expanded, with outposts in Greenwich, Conn., and on Manhattan’s Upper West and Upper East sides. She launched the evening’s conversation by asking, “How many women here have their own small businesses?” Nearly every hand in the room shot up. Among others, those businesses included interior design, acupuncture, real estate, psychotherapy, insurance, landscaping, and fitness.

The event, which cost $20 for Chamber of Commerce members and $25 for nonmembers, drew women from prominent businesses in the Rivertowns: Houlihan Lawrence (Ardsley and Irvington), AppleMed Urgent Care (Dobbs Ferry), and Sunnyside Federal Bank (Irvington). Some participants came from businesses outside the area: Barnes & Noble (Manhattan), and WFUV-FM radio (the Bronx). Also in the crowd was Dobbs Ferry resident Jenny Rosenstrach, author of the books “Dinner: A Love Story” and “Dinner: The Playbook.”

The story Godin shared with her audience is an unusual one. After 20 years as a lawyer for NBC, Reader’s Digest, and Bloomberg, she quit the profession in 2010. A year later she opened By the Way, despite her two sons, Mo and Alex, who were 14 and 15 at the time, reminding her, “You don’t know how to bake!”

A self-described workaholic as a lawyer, Godin, 55, didn’t change her stripes as a bakery owner. “Once a workaholic, always a workaholic,” she admitted. “I applied my attorney workaholism to trying to trick rice into thinking it was wheat.” That trick enables Godin to keep her goodies gluten-free. They are also dairy-free and certified kosher.

When a woman asked how Godin got her business up and running in just a year, Godin replied, “I totally winged it.” She also took a class in vegan baking, and had to learn the nuts and bolts of running a business: for example, dealing with vendors, purchasing supplies, and designing the storefront to meet village standards. “I refused to be afraid,” she told her audience.

Georgette Golio, 35, wife of Dobbs Ferry Village Trustee Vic Golio, loves her job as director of media for Thornwood-based Allstar Products Group. However, she told the Enterprise, “I want to see what the next chapter is. The Rivertowns has a lot to offer. I’m pretty impressed with this little village; there are a lot of special things going on.” She admitted, “I might sound biased,” but only because when she’s out and about, accompanied by her husband, she has a different perspective. “I wanted to see Dobbs Ferry through my own eyes,” Golio explained. “I came to meet new people and find out about local businesses. The social aspect is nice. Knowing that this type of support system exists is the best part.”

Two members of the Chamber of Commerce board of directors, Maggie Segrich (president), owner of Alice and Chains bespoke jewelry, and Christy Sheppard Knell, 37, owner of Knell & Co. Design, together with Harper’s catering and event manager Michelle Adams, organized the two-hour gathering.

Several women told the Enterprise that their reasons for participating in the networking went beyond making business connections. Ardsley resident Karisma Brooks, 37, personal lines coordinator for Purchase-based Loveman, Kornreich, & Steers, Inc., insurance brokers, wanted “to support women in Westchester, who are kind of unrecognized” as a talent pool, especially those who have been out of the workforce for a while and want to return. “No one’s paying attention,” Brooks said, “so women can get in there and make a big bang.”

Her partner, Sue Sender, 26, is a marketing associate with ASI Group in Yonkers; ASI designs, engineers, and manufactures commercial partitions, washroom accessories, and lockers. “I work on the ‘back end’,” Sender explained. “Some men think women don’t have the confidence to do that. I say, ‘Let me see what kind of challenge I can find.’”

Sender, too, sees the need to support other women in business, for larger reasons. “Because of what’s happening now, with women being put down, and progress being rolled back, I wanted to see what women were up to, and take any opportunity to empower women.”

Knell had a similar motivation for co-creating the event. “We had wanted to do more networking events for the Chamber to help small businesses grow,” she said, “and thought it would be good to focus on women, especially with the political climate now, and with women bonding together.”

Feedback from the event has been 100 percent positive.

Florist Miko Akasaka, 29, proprietor of Seasons on the Hudson on Main Street in Irvington, enthused that it was the best networking event she’d ever attended. Christina Cohen, 40, owner of Christina Michelle Interiors, based at 145 Palisade Street in Dobbs Ferry, also gave the event a thumbs-up. She and Rosenstrach concurred that the evening was more fun than they had anticipated.

The Chamber intends to host a more networking events, according to Knell, noting that it is easy to attract a crowd. “We didn’t have to put out ads or fliers. Social media did it. Word spread like wildfire on Facebook. A lot of similar-thinking people in the community wanted to come together, and people told their friends.”

Future possible venues include Meritage in Scarsdale and Saint George Bistro in Hastings, sister restaurants to Harper’s, according to Jamie Steinthal, who co-owns Meritage with chef Chris Vergara. “We want to get women together, whether they’re working or not, or if they have kids and are getting back into it,” she said. Her tentative plans are to have themed events, with a speaker.

“We’re still trying to build the Chamber and have people who can execute things,” Knell explained. “The more people that join, the more potential there is to have someone to help these things happen more regularly.”

The Chamber may have to tweak the logistics, though; a couple of women commented on the noise level of the gathering. Knell has a solution: “We might need a bigger space.”

Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of the Rivertowns Enterprise. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.


March 10, 2017

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