It’s an old saying that good things come in threes. That could very well be the case for downtown Angels Camp in the past month.
Three businesses – all owned by women entrepreneurs – have opened within just a few weeks and a few blocks of each other along Main Street in the historic downtown area.
At the beginning of May, Mingo’s on Main opened for business. A week after that, Just Because Gifts began operating, and shortly after that, on Mother’s Day, Crafty Chicks & Co. had its soft opening. All three offer similar products, but each is unique with its products and services.
It might not seem like a big deal, but businesses owned by women are on the rise throughout the country, and what’s happening on Main Street in Angels Camp could be considered indicative of what’s happening on Main Street, USA.
A report issued in 2017 by the National Association of Women Business Owners showed that more than 11.6 million companies are owned by women, employing some 9 million people. Those businesses created $1.7 trillion in sales in 2017. Furthermore, more than 51% of women-owned businesses accounted for 39% of all privately held companies.
Half of all women-owned businesses fell into one of three categories, according to the report. Professional, scientific or technical services account for 12% of the businesses; health care and social services account for 15%; and other services, such as hair and nail salons and pet care, account for 23%, according to the report.
Julie Douglas began Crafty Chicks & Co. as a small handmade and vintage craft fair in Utica Park in Angels Camp in 2017. The idea came from a similar event she had been a part of in Turlock, where she lived previous to her and husband Greg’s move to Calaveras County. The response to that initial event was so great, Douglas said, that she decided to move the holiday show to the fairgrounds.
The Crafty Chicks Roadshow has been held three times a year at the fairgrounds since then.
“We’ve got about 80 vendors that join us,” Douglas said. “The majority are local, but some are from farther away, like the Valley or the Bay Area or Sacramento.”
The products featured at the roadshows are exclusively handmade and vintage, Douglas said.
“I had no idea I was going to do this,” Douglas said. Being a crafter herself, she was seeking a “true” craft fair, but she was finding vendor fairs that didn’t feature handmade items. “It was hard finding anything that was a true craft fair, so I just would start one down in Utica Park. I thought it would be small, maybe 10 or 20 vendors.”
Word got out on social media, and the number increased to 40 vendors, including crafters and food trucks.
“Crafty Chicks … the craft fair has actually provided a really nice stepping stone to this store,” Douglas said. “The store just happened faster than I could have ever imagined.”
Half of the store, at 1273 S. Main St., is comprised of Douglas’ crafts and the other half is from local crafters. Handmade bags, jewelry, clothing, toys, jams and many other items are found throughout the establishment.
The store will also feature a second level where crafting classes will be held for community members by the time the grand opening is held on June 8-9, from noon-5 p.m.
Just a few doors down and across the way at 1248 S. Main St., Just Because Gifts, owned by Carla Santiago, offers only locally handmade gifts and other wares as well. But the shopkeeper, also quite crafty, has a twist. Santiago creates custom T-shirt designs.
“I’ve always wanted to (open my own business). I had some friends that offered me a heck of an opportunity, and I took it,” Santiago said of why she opened up Just Because Gifts. “Most of my merchandise is from local artists. I’m trying to bring in people from our area. I do vinyl T-shirts. We do a lot of woodwork. And then I have crafters from around the area.”
Santiago doesn’t do consignment. When her vendors come in, she buys the product directly from them.
“I don’t want them to have to chase after their money. Times are hard. Everyone needs their money,” Santiago said. So far, she said, her T-shirts are the most popular items. She’ll take custom design orders, but she doesn’t take large-scale orders.
“(Customers) are thrilled we’re here,” Santiago said. “They are absolutely thrilled that there are stores opening up downtown. I’m working with Julie (Douglas) and a couple other ladies to bring even more business in.”
Santiago said that many of the business owners in downtown Angels Camp are women, citing the cafe next door to her business and the bar down the street.
Their efforts appear to be paying off.
Debbie Ponte, executive director of Destination Angels Camp, said that the occupancy rate of the downtown area is about 75%. About this time last year it was approximately 60%.
“All three of these ladies are especially good at the social media hype,” Ponte said of Douglas’, Santiago’s and Gretel Tiscornia’s efforts to bring more foot traffic to the district. “Occupancy is getting better. Building for building it’s reaching that 75% occupancy rate at least.”
One of the businesses that many patrons would like to see open, according to Ponte and the others, is a restaurant or bar and grill. Ponte said that’s where the Utica Hotel comes into play, but another possible location is the building next to Mingo’s on Main. Tiscornia, owner of Mingo’s and the Pickle Patch in San Andreas, also owns the vacant building next to Mingo’s.
It was originally her and her husband’s plan to purchase both spaces and lease to a bar and a restaurant, one occupying each space. They weren’t getting any bites, so Tiscornia decided to open a business. At first she thought about a restaurant or bar, but after 21 years in food service and being too busy to connect with her customers the way she once did, she decided on a simpler route.
“I wanted to do something that was going to be fun,” Tiscornia said. “I can do a little more visiting with people here. Here it’s like my hobby job. It’s made me appreciate people again.”
Tiscornia is working the business with her daughter, Savannah Hannigan. Like the others, Mingo’s offers gifts and other crafty items. It also stocks clothing and has refurbished furniture for sale, one of Tiscornia’s other hobbies.
Eventually, Hannigan will take over the Pickle Patch altogether and Tiscornia will work at Mingo’s, making it a retirement job. Mingo’s does, however, carry sandwiches and other food items from the Pickle Patch as a way to draw in customers.
According to Douglas – who is working with Santiago, Tiscornia and other business owners and local associations to create the Angels Evening Stroll, which will feature live music, food, art, wine and extended business hours – the business model for downtown Angels Camp is one that has worked in Turlock. That city is seeing economic success, with a 90% business occupancy rate.
“I want to take what I learned down there and make it work here,” Douglas said. “You can’t just make it with one store or two stores.”
There is one thing, Tiscornia said, that Angels Camp has that very few other places have.
“There’s a lot of hope for the area,” she said. “They don’t make small towns like this anymore. It’s eclectic; it has more character.”