2012-12-21 / People

Broadway ladies

Group of South Portland business owners offer support, camaraderie
By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer


A few of the “ladies of Broadway,” the women who own and operate the cluster of shops on the 800 block of Broadway: From left, Debbi Burns of Diva Hair Studio, Dana Ben of Drapery Trading Co., Rhona Vosmus of Central Yarn Shop and Nancy Seiler of Drapery Trading Co. (Jack Flagler photo) A few of the “ladies of Broadway,” the women who own and operate the cluster of shops on the 800 block of Broadway: From left, Debbi Burns of Diva Hair Studio, Dana Ben of Drapery Trading Co., Rhona Vosmus of Central Yarn Shop and Nancy Seiler of Drapery Trading Co. (Jack Flagler photo) Mary Robin Lurie moved from Austin, Texas to South Portland and opened her business in 1970. Four decades ago, there was a bar across from House of Frames, her shop at 863 Broadway, Lurie said. Next to that, on the corner of Elm Street, was a small café. There was a shoe shop and a barbershop that shared the building as well.

Today, Lurie’s Texas state flag still flies outside her storefront, but little else remains the same on this block of Broadway businesses. Lurie’s shop, along with the ones she faces on the other side of the street, are now part of a cluster of local businesses all owned by women in this particular area of South Portland.

Nancy Seiler, owner of the Drapery Trading Company at 868 Broadway, has taken to calling the women who own the businesses in the area the “ladies of Broadway.” She has run her drapery business in South Portland for more than 40 years. Initially, Seiler worked out of her home and ran the business by herself. But for the last two decades, she has been joined by Dana Ben.

“When people ask what’s the one thing you love about your life, I say, ‘my job.’ I love it. We’re best friends and it just works,” Ben said.

For years, Drapery Trading Company has shared a wall with Diva Hair Studio, owned by Stephanie Dudley. The two businesses were next to each other in the Mill Creek shopping center, then moved to their current locations within weeks of each other in 1998.

Seiler moved her business for a brief period of time to downtown South Portland on Cottage Road, near Red’s Dairy Freeze. But Dudley said she kept an eye on the space next to her, and when the business there didn’t work out, her first call was to Seiler, who was happy to move back in.

“Even if you have a day that you’re by yourself you still always have good neighbors,” Dudley said.

The shops on this block of Broadway aren’t a traditional business cluster, like the auto mile in Saco or the breweries off Riverside Street in Portland, because they aren’t all in the same business. They don’t share resources, but Ben said their partnership is more social.

“We’ve all given each other, in one form or way, business,” Ben said.

When someone comes into the drapery shop to comment on Ben’s curly hair, she will send that person next door to Diva stylist Debbi Burns, who specializes in curls. Meanwhile, Dudley said she encourages customers who “have color on” and are waiting to dye their hair, to stop next door and shop.

Lurie, Seiler and Dudley have all owned businesses in the area for decades. But two ladies who are relative newcomers to Broadway have also been able to capitalize on the positive social dynamic.

Carissa Ciuca opened her yoga studio, Breathing Room, at 864 Broadway in January 2011. Ciuca initially hesitated over the decision. She had just moved to Portland from Washington, D.C. She was three months pregnant at the time, and her husband, who is in the U.S. Coast Guard, often has to travel.

But Ciuca said even though she usually works seven days a week, running the studio has been a “joyful effort” because of the community’s support.

“I never felt threatened. Everyone was uplifting and supportive,” Ciuca said. “Coming from D.C., that’s not a feeling you get.”

Much of that support has come from around the city as a whole, including another yoga studio down the street, Greener Postures. But Ciuca said she felt especially welcomed by the ladies next door, who have come in for classes and developed a sense of “camaraderie.”

The newest addition to the business cluster is Rhona Vosmus. A sign in Drapery Trading Company points out her store, Central Yarn Shop, to the uninitiated. “Rhona’s Room” reads the sign above an open doorway in the back of the store.

Central Yarn Shop has been in business for more than 60 years. For the last 20 or so, since Vosmus took over for her parents, she ran the shop from Congress Street in downtown Portland. But a family illness and escalating rent prices had presented challenges in recent years.

“I was really ready to close and Nancy walked in and said ‘I’ve got a back room,’” Vosmus said. “Next thing I know I called her back and said, ‘I’m coming.’”

Customers have to walk through Seiler’s store to get to the entrance of Central Yarn Shop. However, Vosmus said the back room space has not presented a problem because of the relationship she’s built up with Seiler and Ben. One business has even made sales for the other when someone has to be out of the shop. Seiler said that sense of trust is reflected in every business on the block.

I think one of the most wonderful things is, there’s a trust,” Seiler said. “There is a genuine caring about each other and wanting each other to do well. We want each other to succeed.”

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