Store owners at the Shops at Walden could not be prouder of their supportive business community.
Shoppers can take a Pilates class at Absolute Pilates, pick up a unique outfit for a son or niece at Snazzy Giraffe and grab lunch at Sophia’s at Walden in a single walkable trip. Or they could do a night out with a trip to Posh Salon and Spa followed by craft beer-sampling at Harty Brewing Co. or a BYOB painting class at aMuse Uncorked.
These shops have something else in common aside from their walkability and boutique style: Most of their owners are female.
“We’re all very strong women,” said Sophia Nelms, owner of the Sophia’s at Walden restaurant. “I think we all took a risk, and I think we’re all there to support each other to make sure that risk we took succeeds.”
The Shops at Walden include about a dozen small stores arranged in an intentionally quaint downtown, complete with tree-lined, brick-accented sidewalks. Each storefront has a unique style, with condos filling up some upper-floor spaces.
These stores are not on a downtown Main Street though; they are tucked into a Silver Spring Township neighborhood.
This tiny business community is part of what Central Pennsylvania-based Charter Homes and Neighborhoods thinks of as the Great American Neighborhood: a place where people can enjoy the convenience of a trendy downtown in the comfort of a suburban neighborhood.
At the Shops at Walden, that means a place where residents in the roughly 10-year-old Walden community can walk for a fun experience, said Robert Bowman, president of Charter.
The key to making these business communities a success, he said, is to create an experience for shoppers that they cannot get anywhere else. That means finding small business owners who are willing to commit to the kind of service that will make customers want to return – preferably with friends.
Charter found those kinds of people in the shops it brought Walden, Bowman said. This group of business owners has created its own kind of community-within-a-community, holding regular meetings to discuss marketing strategies, plan collaborative events and share stories of success and failure.
These shop owners came to the neighborhood through a variety of paths, with most already demonstrating their determination to succeed before they opened their doors at Walden.
Adie Hanisko, owner of aMuse Uncorked, wanted a permanent studio space for the “paint and sip” classes she taught at in-home parties and local restaurants, wineries and country clubs. Because she tries to make her classes social nights out for her customers, she knew a strip mall wouldn’t cut it.
A business associate suggested Walden, and, after a year of searching, she finally found the perfect fit.
“A place with personality and character and charm – it truly was the ‘The Great American Neighborhood,’ and it all just clicked,” she said. “Our studio would be a destination within a destination, taking our customers’ overall experience to a whole new level.”
Michelle Jacobs, owner of the Snazzy Giraffe children’s boutique, was also attracted to Walden’s quaintness, which matched the uniqueness of the clothes and toys she offers in her shop, she said. She opened her store in Lemoyne after spending 20 years helping to run a software company before moving the shop to Walden two years ago.
Absolute Pilates owner Allison Zang lives in the neighborhood, so opening a studio near her home just made sense, she said. The studio is one of several locations the former epidemiology researcher has opened in the area since she decided to turn her hobby into a business.
Walden is also one of several locations for Nelms, who also has a restaurant in Hampden Township. A 40-year veteran of the restaurant business, she praised her fellow Walden store owners for the way they help each other succeed.
“We all have this same interest at heart,” she said. “We all care about each other and how well we do.”
Hanisko also praised the community’s spirit of collaboration, noting that while most of her business neighbors are women, all of them are local small business, a fact that further unites them.
These women and Walden’s other shops owners work together to promote each other’s businesses and brainstorm ideas for marketing. They have also held promotions ranging from a trick-or-treat night to punch-card specials.
This creative collaboration is especially crucial given Walden’s unique location, Jacobs said.
“It’s not something you’re going to accidentally drive by,” she said.
Hanisko noted, however, that Walden’s location does make it a kind of hidden gem, even though it is just a short drive from Carlisle Pike.
“As soon as I see the wildly delighted look on a new customer’s face when they’ve ‘discovered’ Walden, it reminds me that this is exactly where I was meant to be,” she said.
Despite the long hours and all the other challenges that come with owning a small business, many of Walden’s shop owners already have aspirations to take on more. Nelms is opening a third restaurant at another Charter neighborhood in Lower Allen Township, and Jacobs said she may consider opening a second shop someday.
Zang, however, has promised herself she will not open another business in 2017. She already opened three studios between October 2015 and May 2016, all while her husband opened his own physical therapy practice.
But she’s not making any promises for 2018.
“I’ll find something to keep me on my toes,” she said with a laugh.