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What's with the cluster of new women-owned businesses in Lawrenceville?

Texas native Jenn Gooch, 35, opened werk, a working arts and craft studio on Butler Street, in April after losing her job as a graphic designer at her alma mater, Carnegie Mellon University, and scrambling to find a way to make ends meet.
"I decided to create my own day job that I wouldn't hate," says Gooch, an artist with an MFA.

In a we-should-all-be-so-fortunate moment, she was thrilled to receive a surprising and anonymous gift of $10,000 shortly after losing her job.

"I chose to live in Pittsburgh because there is a lot of funding for the arts," says Gooch. "My unemployment made me look at the award as a seed for something that could grow to creatively employ myself and others, something that I've struggled with since graduating in 2009."

Gooch is one of several young female entrepreneurs who have opened new businesses in Lawrenceville, a neighborhood that has a reputation for embracing them.

"Lawrenceville is unique in that female entrepreneurs were the trend setters for the neighborhood's resurgence over a decade ago," says Maya Henry, director of special initiatives for the Lawrenceville Corporation. "Female owned businesses started positive trends in the business district and led the neighborhood's revitalization."

This past summer, four new women, including Gooch, have joined the ranks of female business owners in Lawrenceville, continuing the leadership role women are playing in the community.

At WERK, Gooch keeps busy with alterations and repair work to clothing for clients. She also promotes the education of crafts and skills through workshops, lectures and apprenticeships.

"I wanted to offer some of my skills to the community instead of selling something," she says.

Gooch also supports her fellow local artists by offering her store as a place to showcase their pieces. She sells a variety of handmade arts and crafts created by her and other local artists, from jewelry and scarves to bow ties and quilts.

Werk is a natural fit for Lawrenceville with its already established art and design-centered business scene. And like many business owners in the neighborhood, Gooch also calls Lawrenceville home.

So far, Gooch is happy with the response she's received from the community. She's constantly kept busy with alterations and repair projects, and when she's not working on clients' projects, she's creating clothing and accessory pieces to sell. Her most popular pieces in the shop are her handcrafted hats and scarves.

"When you own your own business you find yourself doing all the work yourself for a while before you can afford to hire someone to help," Gooch explains. "I've been working 14 hour days for the past five months, but it's very rewarding work."

Glitter & Grit
Since she was very young, Pittsburgh native Erin Szymanski, 33, knew she wanted to own a store. It wasn't until she planned her wedding that she decided what she would sell. She opened Glitter & Grit, an independent and earth-friendly bridal boutique, after discovering a lack of offbeat bridal options in Pittsburgh.

"I wasn't one of those girls that dreamed about my wedding day my whole life. There was actually part of me that was kind of embarrassed to say I was entering the wedding industry," she explains. "But, I just knew there was this hole in the market I couldn't deny any more."

Each dress in the shop was hand selected by Szymanski and while Glitter and Grit carries plenty of white and ivory hued gowns, it also offers more unusual dresses that incorporate color. Wai Ching, the designer Szymanski chose for her own wedding dress, specializes in gowns with a splash of color.

Szymanski selected several of Wai Ching's ombre-style gowns for the shop that feature saturated gradients of purple, green or fuscia, as well as a gown with a skirt of brightly colored ruffles in all shades of the rainbow.

"I spent a lot of time on the Internet researching wedding blogs and finding my designers for the store," she says. "The gowns I picked all have amazing texture that you wouldn't see in traditional gowns. I think fabrics like lace are pretty, but it's not my style."

Locating her shop in Lawrenceville was a no-brainer.

"I knew that I didn't want to be anywhere else," she added. "The business community here is so incredibly collaborative — and amazingly friendly. There are so many genius, successful independent shops here and I love the vibrancy of both the residents and visitors. Lawrenceville just always feels so alive."

Jules Boutique
After a few years working public relations in the rat race that's New York City, Julia Weiskopf decided to move back home to Pittsburgh for a different pace. After a few short-lived public relations stints in Pittsburgh, she shifted her focus to her first love — retail. First she worked at Panello, a women's boutique in Lawrenceville, owned by her friend Cara Moody. It reminded her how much she loved retail.

In May she opened Jules, a women's and men's clothing, shoes and accessories boutique.

Jules features several designers, many of which Weiskopf loves and wears personally. They include  DL1961, Baren, C&C California, Botkier, Fred Perry, Velvet, Dogeared, Ladakh, Pendelton, Joe's Jeans, Bed Stu, Benson and Volley, among others. The shop also sells the work of local designers such as Pittsburgh sports themed t-shirts by Wreck City.

"I sell items priced high and low, trendy and basic," says the 29-year-old owner. "I wanted Jules to be everything you'd want in a closet."

While making plans for Jules, she decided to include a healthy selection of men's clothing, shoes and accessories since there is a lack of men's retail options in Lawrenceville.

"Men and women come shopping together," she says. "Why should the men have to stand around? They should be able to shop, too."

Weiskopf chose Lawrenceville after researching several neighborhoods in Pittsburgh.

"I looked at several spaces in different neighborhoods," she says. "I decided on Lawrenceville because as far as the neighborhood has come, it's still growing very fast and, now that I'm here, I love how supportive all of the business owners are. We cross-promote each other and work together. It's an awesome dynamic."

Mid-Atlantic Mercantile
After working as a freelance stylist and buyer at Panello and Jupe boutiques, Emily Slagel, 25, opened Mid-Atlantic Mercantile, a shop specializing in heirloom quality men's and women's clothing and home goods, in May.

"I realized I would never be able to accomplish what I wanted to while working for someone else's dream," says Slagel. "There was a market in Pittsburgh that wasn't being served and I knew the time to strike out on my own was now."

Mid-Atlantic Mercantile sells a variety of ethically sourced and American-made clothing designed to last a lifetime.

"Women's fashion has become disposable, with a very quick turnover of trends and very little attention to quality," she says. "You should be able to buy a winter coat that you love and wear to death and then pass down to your daughter.

"I want to create a dialogue about cost versus value and a movement towards complete consumer consciousness. Our direction is a return to vintage industry."

Slagel knew Lawrenceville would be the perfect neighborhood for her to get her message out to the Pittsburgh community.
"This neighborhood is my pride and joy and the concept of my business thrives on being community-centric," she says. "As a resident, I wanted to contribute to my neighborhood's economy and quality of living."

She also loves how Lawrenceville has such a strong female influence in its business district.

"It really is almost like a sisterhood or club," she says. "We share very similar visions for the direction of the neighborhood and our businesses. We're in constant communication about our ideas and how we can make our shops even better by working together."
 Photos copyright Brian Cohen
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