Shining The Spotlight On Women-Owned Businesses by Miss Kenosha 2022, Jenna Zeihen
Beyond the sparkles, the sash, and the crown, being Miss Kenosha is about serving my beautiful hometown and empowering our community. Some people may not know this, but Miss Kenosha is a part of the Miss America organization, whose mission is “To prepare great women for the world, and to prepare the world for great women.” As a tribute to downtown Kenosha and the businesses behind the magic, I asked a few of my downtown favorites owned by women, about their stories of running the ship as a business owner in their field.
I first spoke to Sam Vaughn, the co-owner of Birds of Paradox Studios. The business was created as an artistic outlet for tattooing, and photography, and now is focused on “Bringing the community together through different mediums of art.” When I asked Sam her favorite thing about owning a downtown business, she said, “My favorite thing is the community! Being in an industry that seems to be more ‘competitive’, our goal has always been and will be to build up and work with others.”
When I asked Sam about the impacts of being a woman in her field, she said, “It can be harder for people to respect you as a businesswoman which only makes me want to try even harder to get that respect and change the stereotype for others,” Sam said. “Being a woman is HARD for many reasons. I feel like once you get that respect from others you know it’s sincere and earned because you had to work twice as hard and put yourself out there.” Sam has been pivotal to my confidence since my reign as Miss Kenosha has begun, and I am so grateful Kenosha has such an empowering woman forging ahead in our community to uplift and connect with others.
Another Downtown staple I spoke with is The Lettering Machine, which was bought by Tina and Dave Chatman in 2002. “We are a big family down here!” Tina explained. Her favorite part of being downtown is the relationships built over the years. For Tina, the Lettering Machine’s impact on our community relies greatly on the way she, and her team, are as human beings.“Working with a great team of people and helping our customers bring their ideas to reality, is why I love what I do.” Every time I step foot into the Lettering Machine, I feel uplifted by their energy and kindness. They truly aim to make every brand, business, and the person feel their best.
Finally, I walked up the stairs of the eccentric and beautiful 6th Avenue building which holds EQUINOX botanical boutique, with founder and owner, Maria Caravati. We sat upstairs after she showed me the massage and facial rooms (and her sweet pup), and she started at the very beginning. “Equinox is the longest female-owned downtown business,” Maria told me. She explained that until recent years, Equinox was all about the care of your body and soul through the health and wellness benefits of organic massage, and holistic facials. She had been a passionate gardener for many years, and upon a large life shift, she found herself suddenly caring for over 100 houseplants. “That’s when I discovered the power of plant therapy,” Maria told me. “There are two things in this world that are most healing to me, the sense of nurturing and life in the soil, and the human skin.” This is when she knew it was time to expand into the “EQUINONX botanical boutique”, in addition to their known and loved massage therapy.
I wanted to know how on earth this all began, and how she was supported in beginning Equinox all those years ago. “I forged ahead with my dreams,” she said smiling at me. “Some people thought I was crazy, but having the dream, and believing in it, that’s all that matters.” I mentioned to Maria how much I admire her role in making downtown a beautiful place to be. That’s when she told me she began the tradition of the downtown hanging flower baskets. “I planted them myself in my backyard 22 years ago to be hung here in Downtown Kenosha. To celebrate the baskets, on June 7th of 2007 she recalled, they had a celebration called “Bloomin Days.” “It was all a labor of love,” she said, “and the moment I saw the kids parade with the marching band, and their balloons on their bikes…I’ll never forget that moment.”
I was blown away by the passion and love in her story and asked Maria if it was hard, bringing her dreams of Equinox to life. “I was never in the business to make money. If you want beauty, you have to create it. You have to make it. You have to BE it.”
When we support our local businesses and the human beings behind the magic, we invest in dreams and in the family that Kenosha is. These three women are three of dozens of brilliant business owners in the Downtown area that are the heartbeat of this town.
The power of hearing each other’s stories, supporting our local businesses, and uplifting each other is limitless. I am proud to be a part of the women aiming to empower us all.
With great love and gratitude,
your Miss Kenosha 22’, Jenna Zeihen
Photos by Samantha Vaughn & Donny Stancato
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(This article first appeared in the Downtown Kenosha Magazine Summer 2022 issue)