Alex mother-daughter team buck Minnesota trend, own sweet businessIt is a sweet situation. With a friendly, neighborhood atmosphere, Sweet Seasons seems comfortably home inside its historic 100-plus-year-old locale on Broadway in Alexandria. And the gift shop has something else that is special, or rather – someone. It defies Minnesota odds.
By: Wendy Wilson, Alexandria Echo Press
It is a sweet situation.
With a friendly, neighborhood atmosphere, Sweet Seasons seems comfortably home inside its historic 100-plus-year-old locale on Broadway in Alexandria.
And the gift shop has something else that is special, or rather – someone. It defies Minnesota odds.
Mother-daughter team Nancy Tillman and Brooke Tillman-Sievers own the store. The pair purchased the shop and inventory from long-time owner Marlene Bettin, taking over the operation June 1.
But women business-owners in Minnesota are not the norm. In 2007, women owned less than 27 percent of Minnesota businesses, according to a report released by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.
In fact, Minnesota lags behind most of the country, ranking 44th nationally for growth in the number of women-owned businesses during the past 14 years, according to statistics recently released by American Express OPEN, based upon data released from the U.S. Census Bureau in December 2010.
Nationally, the number of women-owned firms saw a 50 percent increase since 1997. In Minnesota, however, the increase of businesses owned by women was a meager 27.3 percent.
Comparatively, the total number of businesses nationwide increased an average of 34 percent during the same period. Nationally, women-owned businesses comprise 29 percent of all companies.
Nancy said she thinks it is more difficult for women to start businesses because of years spent raising children and the high capital requirements.
“You have to get a pretty good cash-backing to get a business started,” Nancy said. “I think banks aren’t as willing to look at you as a woman.”
But Nancy sees advantages to businesses owned by women.
“I think that women-run businesses are more friendly, more intuitive, knowing what women are looking for,” she said.
She believes people are very receptive to female-owned businesses in Alexandria.
“I think there are quite a few of us,” she said.
SWEET SEASONS’ MOTHER-DAUGHTER TEAM
Nancy and Brooke lived in Cambridge for many years prior to moving to Alexandria. Nancy, 54, moved to the area about five years ago and worked as a salesperson and designer at Sweet Seasons part time for two years. One day, she learned “through the grapevine” that the business was for sale.
Owning a business is not a new experience for Nancy. After earning a degree in elementary education and teaching for years, she owned a coffee shop in Cambridge for 10 years that she ran with her three daughters. Her husband is a certified registered nurse anesthetist.
Owning Sweet Seasons seemed like a natural progression after moving to Alexandria.
“This might be really once again a nice family business,” she said.
Nancy recounted the outflow of support from the Alexandria community after she suffered four fractures in her pelvis following a fall from her bicycle.
Friends and neighbors brought over meals, took her to a church sewing group and out for lunch while she recuperated in a wheelchair.
“It was nice to see the amazing outpouring of a small town,” she said.
Thankfully, Nancy said she has fully recovered from the accident.
Brooke, 30, moved to Alexandria this summer with her husband, Scott, and their two young boys.
Nancy described them as small-town people.
“And Grandma and Grandpa help babysit,” Brooke added.
Brooke and Scott own the building and manage the three apartments upstairs while Nancy owns the inventory for the business.
“We get along so well,” Nancy said. “It is nice to have Brooke’s young eye here,”
Brooke couldn’t agree more.
“We have a great relationship and a great working relationship,” she said.
Nancy described the reasons she sought to own Sweet Seasons.
“Probably one of my greatest loves in life is shopping,” she said. “Now I get to shop for a living.”
She is also enthralled with the building’s 20-foot original tin ceilings and hardwood floors “that are musical to walk on.”
The shop has a wide variety of wares, including art, cookware, garden-themed decorative pieces, contemporary items, baby toys and gifts, Alexandria-wear and decorations, specialty foods and jewelry. It also carries a line of cards by Jefferson High School graduate Michelle Avery. Four consignors also sell antiques and collectibles in the shop.
Men can find it an oasis, as well. It has a “man cave” where they can sit and relax while women shop.
The company employs eight people. “They are all just wonderful, awesome, amazing women,” Nancy said.
And it is a family enterprise. Even Nancy’s 87-year-old mother has a line of “sassy saying” hand towels she stitched with humorous witticisms.
Nancy said she had “big shoes to fill” and gave high praise to the store’s former owner.
“I can only hope to be as amazing as Marlene has been.”
Sweet Seasons is located at 507 Broadway in Alexandria.