census 2020

Part one in a three-part series. Read part two.

In a time when the word “recession” has become equivalent to a swear word, the common theme has been small businesses halting production, corporations doing mass layoffs, and others closing their doors altogether.

There are mixed opinions on starting a business during a rough economic climate. Some economists argue that unnecessary financial risk taking during this recession isn’t the way to go, while others advocate taking advantage of real estate deals and making the jump if you’re already without work. What can’t be argued is Pittsburgh’s status in the marketplace.

In 2009, CNN Money named Pittsburgh the #2 place to start a small business among large metro areas. Here on the Northside, some employees-turned-entrepreneurs fulfilled that stat and decided that it was time to be their own bosses. In some cases, a layoff or job loss may have spurred the new venture. In other occasions, a simple desire to seize an opportunity was all that it took.

These success stories, tales of risk-taking and dream-following, reveal individuals who took a chance and who are enjoying the title of “owner.”

Another childcare option

Left: Tamara Charles of Our Little Ones Daycare. (Photo/Emily Leone)

Daycares are plentiful in the city and suburbs, but Tamara Charles started offering a service with late-night hours that cater to any parent’s schedule. Charles, who opened Our Little Ones Daycare in June 2009 on Perrysville Avenue, created a center that is warm, welcoming and is succeeding.

“When people came into our center, that’s when they made up their minds. It’s the atmosphere that we created and the leaning experience that we created,” Charles said. “We’re not just warehousing kids, we’re teaching them. They’re engaged and teachers are engaged.

“Parents say we’re worth the trip from outside neighborhoods.”

Our Little Ones blossomed from a bad situation. After making a six-figure income, Charles was unexpectedly laid off from JP Morgan Chase. She decided to pull her 401ks and start off on her own. After opening in June 2009, her business came to a standstill when the state legislature failed to pass the budget on time. Like thousands of other childcare workers and service providers, Charles didn’t receive timely payment from various state agencies.

She made personal sacrifices during that time to keep her business open, like sleeping on her daughter’s couch and working a second job. But Charles said she never doubted herself.

“I didn’t question whether it was going to happen, but wondered how it was going to happen,” she said.

Her sacrifices paid off, said Charles, who has not had to take out a single loan to operate her daycare. Our Little Ones has been at near capacity since opening, and she’s currently looking at other spaces so that her daycare center can grow even bigger.

Charles said she had the business savvy background to succeed, but that others may not and need to consider outside help.

 “Do your homework, research what’s required. Do a full analysis of what you need, like staffing and equipment,” she said. “Get someone in to do [your] financials, or take the time out yourself.

“And don’t give up.”

A cut above the rest

Right: Kristy Kutschbach of Salon Chic. (Photo courtesy Kristy Kutschbach)

Kristy Kutschbach has been working in the salon industry for a long time. But after working downtown at a nail salon and seeing her take-home pay eaten up by exorbitant parking rates, she decided it was time to set out on her own.

Kutschbach opened Salon Chic in Brighton Heights on April 9 and received a steady stream of new clients early on. Having grown up in Brighton Heights, Kutschbach had the advantage of knowing the neighborhood, and knowing what it lacked.

“We are the only full-service nail salon in Brighton Heights,” she said.

In addition to offering a warm, welcoming environment with complimentary beverages for her clients, Kutschbach’s strategy has been to keep overhead costs low so she can pass on the savings to her customers.

“We have lowered our prices, which most businesses can’t or haven’t done,” Kutschbach said. “It’s not the best thing to do, but when things get a little slow, you want to give the consumer the best deal possible. We’re trying to keep competitive.”

For now, Kutschbach is finding ways to draw clientele during the winter months, which is typically the slow season for salons. Her other goals include adding facials and massages so customers can do one-stop shopping at Salon Chic.

Kutschbach tells those thinking about going into businesses for themselves that they will have to work twice as hard.

 “You just have to take the challenge. It’s a big step to try to go out on your own and know you have to pay the bills. If you work hard at it, you can be successful.”

New businesses, revitalized communities

Layoffs and closures aren’t easy for everybody, but as the saying goes, some people find opportunity in failure. According to the Kaufman Foundation, more businesses were created in 2009 during the height of the recession than during the tech boom of 1999-2000.

The opening of a successful new business benefits more than just the owners or stakeholders. If a local resident is the entrepreneur, then the revenue from that business gets recycled in the community, said Mark Fatla, executive director of the Northside Leadership Conference.

“Store fronts and offices generate a sense of activity that pulls others,” Fatla said. “You get an emotional lift from a new business. Neighborhoods that sometimes feel that the market has passed them by, with a new business, suddenly say this is a community with new opportunities.”