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Bad Economy, Bold Moves

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You’re cutting back, aren’t you? Spending more nights at home. Checking all the expenses, looking for fat to trim. That European vacation can wait. Squeeze another year (or two) out of the car.

Not these folks. The leading economic indicators look like they were mugged in a dark alley, but there are courageous entrepreneurs determined to kick some recession butt. In the past year, they have secured financing to start businesses at a time when established companies are looking for safe havens. They can’t be sure what will happen, but they’re hopeful, committed and ready to work.
 

Photograph by Michael SahadiThe Cutting Edge | Bella Mia Hair Boutique

If you want to find someone truly bullish on the economy, take a trip to Rehoboth Beach and look for Diane Minio. Don’t be surprised if she hands you a job application.

Minio opened Bella Mia Hair Boutique in February, and she couldn’t be happier. “The only problem I have is that I need additional people,” she says with a laugh. That’s what happens when you have a highly trained staff that has cultivated a loyal client base.

Minio and her husband, Tom, began thinking about opening a salon in late 2008. Her daughter, Michelle Vietri, has been a stylist in Rehoboth for seven years, and the Minios were looking to start their first venture. The break came when a popular Rehoboth business closed its doors, leaving attractive space and parking.

Two of Bella Mia’s colorists are Redken certified, says Minio. That means they have completed training in Manhattan and have expertise that goes beyond the usual standards at some salons. Because of their talents, clients followed them to Bella Mia, and a steady stream of local residents has flowed into the salon. Because of that, Minio is looking to hire two more stylists.

“The people who work here all get along, and the stylists have known many of their customers for a long while,” Minio says. “The future is wide open for us.”
 

Page 2: The New Computing | Virtual Resources

 

Photograph by Michael SahadiThe New Computing | Virtual Resources

At a time when banks are giving out loans as if they were secrets to eternal life and businesses are looking to cut costs everywhere possible, Mark Stellini has great timing and an even better idea. The former owner of Info Systems, Stellini understood that small businesses didn’t need another crippling capital expense. So he decided to eliminate one of those costs.

Hockessin-based Virtual Resources allows companies of all kinds to minimize their IT costs by removing servers, software and sometimes PCs from offices and replacing them with online computing tools that allow for enhanced productivity and reduced costs.

“It completely takes the capital associated with IT business environments and allows businesses to hold onto it or reinvest it,” says Virtual Resources vice president of sales John Panico.

Virtual Resources was launched in June. It operates on the simple premise that it can provide the software necessary for any business over the Internet. Say a start-up doesn’t want to invest in costly PC equipment and proprietary software. For a monthly fee, Virtual Resources will supply what it needs via the Web. If the company has PCs, it can use them to access the resources. If not, Panico and his staff will provide “thin client devices” that access the tools necessary. Since all of the data is kept on the Virtual Resources servers in Newark, there’s no need for the equipment to be on site. So instead of laying out capital for equipment and paying to maintain it, companies can make a monthly payment to Virtual Resources and save a lot.

“When you look at the total cost of ownership of computer equipment over three years, given what you’re paying today plus the upgrades, versus a monthly fee, it’s pretty compelling,” Panico says.

Right now, the company is focusing on Delaware. The short-term goal is to serve the Mid-Atlantic region. Down the road, Virtual Resources wants a national presence. “There’s no reason to think it couldn’t happen,” Panico says. Not with an idea this good.
 

Page 3: Designing Woman | Mixed Greens

 

Photograph by Michael SahadiDesigning Woman | Mixed Greens

Open a head of lettuce and you get, well, lettuce. Slice a heart of romaine and still—rabbit food. But open a bag of mixed greens, and you’ll find a collection of colors and textures working together harmoniously.

Sounds like Elizabeth Roche should be conducting cooking classes. Instead, she has trained her designer’s eye on her clients’ homes. Her goal is to “set the stage for the production of your life,” which means finding the best way to make what you have work for you. Roche doesn’t try to overhaul people’s spaces. Instead, she finds the best way to create something that represents who they are.

She started her company, Mixed Greens, in July 2008, after months of experimenting with different looks for her home. Friends would visit, compliment her, then ask if she could do the same thing for them. She delighted in finding ways to arrange what people already had into more harmonious layouts. “I have a good eye for color, and I can put things together,” she says. “To put what I do into a couple words, it’s ‘home staging.’ Some people do it to sell a house, but I work with people who want to stay in their house and bring it all together.”

Roche jokes that she’s “the green Martha Stewart” because she also offers clients advice on recipes and ideas that will maximize their home experiences. It’s an odd career path for a political science major, but Roche found herself filled with energy while staying at home with her children and channeled that into a new business.

“When I meet people, I try to find out who they are and what their passions are,” she says. “I want their home to be a sanctuary where they can be themselves.”
 

Page 4: The Sixth Time is the Charm | The Golden Fleece Tavern

 

 

 

Photograph by Michael SahadiThe Sixth Time is the Charm | The Golden Fleece Tavern

No one can ever say Elizabeth Ford isn’t persistent. She and long-time friends Diana Welch and Ryan Weber had a great idea to open a tavern in Dover that honored Delaware’s First State heritage, and they were convinced their business plan was rock solid.

“I felt very confident in it,” says Ford, a Smyrna native who is a business management analyst for JPMorgan Chase. “I knew it was strong.”

The first five banks she approached in search of financing didn’t quite agree, however. “But I was determined,” Ford says. “I believed in the numbers.” The losing streak stopped when she met with TD Bank, which liked the proposal and was impressed that Welch and Weber, who are mother and son, were already making a go of it with the Dover Newsstand, a café downtown. The papers were signed on June 26, and three days later, The Golden Fleece opened its doors.

Though the latest incarnation of the Golden Fleece is less than a half-year old, the concept dates back to the 1700s. It was at the original Golden Fleece that Delaware’s delegates to the Constitutional Congress made the decision to ratify the Constitution. Further, the hostess at the tavern during that time, Elizabeth Empson Battell, was inducted into the Hall of Fame of Delaware Women in 2008 as the Godmother of the First State. “We wanted to keep the history alive,” Ford says.

The Golden Fleece appeals to the professional community, but that doesn’t mean the nearby Wesley College students aren’t welcome. The tavern features an upscale atmosphere with a nod to the past through old photos and prints and is open every day. Live music is featured three or four nights a week.

Ford considers the tavern an “inspiration” in tough times and a chance for Dover women to see female business owners in action. “I look at these times as an opportunity, not a negative,” she says.
 

Page 5: Wear it Again, Samantha | Silver Lining

 

Co-owner Cobey Couture’s boutique caters to professional women and to those looking for something a little different. Photograph by Michael SahadiWear it Again, Samantha | Silver Lining

You can find just about anything a lady needs to look sharp at Silver Lining in Wilmington. There are handbags and jewelry, belts, wallets—even prom dresses. Even better, by shopping there women get to become part of a large circle that touches many Delawareans. And that’s exactly how Lindsay Anderson wants it.

Last spring, she was bartending in town and wondering what type of store she wanted to open. A devoted shopper and lover of clothes, she thought about giving women a place to find something “trendy and creative” to wear. Trouble was, with the economy in a slide, opening a boutique that sold pricey new apparel wasn’t such a good idea.

So she took a step back. The result was Silver Lining, at 302 W. Ninth St., a consignment shop that goes beyond the usual concept of thrift. It combines reasonable prices with fashions that would appeal to young and old, and its price structure rewards shopper, proprietor and the clothing’s original owners.

“I wanted a modern shop that had something for everybody,” Anderson says. “The other day, a woman brought in a sweater and told me, ‘It’s not pretty.’ I said, ‘You never know. Someone out there will like it.’ We specialize in name-brand things that are lightly worn or are buying mistakes. We have a lot of things in the store that still have tags on them.”

Silver Lining takes 50 percent of the sales and sends the other half to the people who donated items. Unlike traditional consignment shops, it aims to satisfy professional women, along with those looking for something a little different. And if that commitment to the “green” clothing cycle isn’t enough, Anderson has filled the store with the work of local artists, designers and crafters. Even the racks and shelves were used before in other stores. And anything that stays in the store for 90 days is donated to the Plummer Community Correction Center, which helps outfit women who are returning to the workplace after incarceration.

Page 6: In Living Color | Red Mohawk Gallery and Studio

 

Photograph by Michael SahadiIn Living Color | Red Mohawk Gallery and Studio

Once you meet Geoff Blake you no longer wonder why he named his business Red Mohawk Gallery and Studio. The blazing, 7-inch Mohawk he sports gives it away.

“I’m my own best advertising,” he says.

Blake’s hairstyle is the perfect symbol for his approach to his craft. Ever since the 27-year-old picked up a camera 15 years ago, he has looked through an unconventional lens. His idea of art and creativity don’t necessarily fit the 20th century model, so those families who go to him for a portrait had better be ready for anything.

“I’ll do it with a little bit of rock styling,” Blake says, laughing. That would make sense, since he spent a year as the “right-hand man” for noted rock ’n’ roll shooter Mark Weiss. That meant getting the chance to hang out with Black Sabbath in ’07 and meeting plenty of other big names in the music business. Not bad for a guy who attended Middletown High School and started at the University of Delaware studying electrical engineering. “That was not what I wanted to do,” Blake says. So he switched to visual communications and earned a degree in photography. After a year in southern California, he returned home and looked for a place to pursue his passion.

He found it at the corner of Ninth and Tatnall in Wilmington. Armed with a Small Business Administration loan, Blake settled into a space large enough to allow local artists to show their work and run his photography concern. At his grand opening in September, a local artist’s paintings were on display. It was a perfect start for Blake, and he intends to forge ahead. “It’s a little scary, because the economy is kind of in the gutter, but I’ve always been the kind of guy who sticks his finger in the air and goes for it,” Blake says.

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