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Women-Owned Businesses Flock to Gowanus

By Leslie Albrecht | September 24, 2012 7:29am

GOWANUS — When Eva Radke needed to move her growing film prop recycling business to a new space, she scouted around for a neighborhood with affordable rents, warehouse buildings and a central location.

Like many business owners before her, she found all three traits in Gowanus, but was pleasantly surprised to discover that the neighborhood had another feature she didn't expect: a growing community of women-owned businesses.

"I've been here a year and a half and I've thought to myself, 'Look who's kicking total ass in Gowanus!'" Radke said of the wave of female-headed businesses crashing over the neighborhood.

Though no hard numbers are available, women-owned businesses seem to be on the rise in Gowanus, with at least 25 popping up within the last four or so years.

Women-owned Businesses in Gowanus
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Billy Figueroa

Among them is Radke's Film Biz Recycling on President Street and Third Avenue. She's surrounded by a variety of women-owned establishments, including Twig, a terrarium store on Third Avenue; The Green Neat Team, eco-friendly cleaners on Third Avenue; 1 800 Mr. Rubbish, a trash removal service on Eighth Street, and Peeled Snacks, a company headquartered on 15th Street whose dried fruit treats are sold nationally in airports, Whole Foods and Starbucks.

Many have capitalized on Gowanus' rapidly changing real estate landscape, as landlords convert former factories into commercial lofts with flexible floor plans.

As for why so many lady-led businesses are cropping up, most scratched their heads. Many said they were drawn to the artist-filled neighborhood's bubbling creative energy, an attractive feature that's enhanced by practical perks such as easy subway access and safe streets at night.

"[Women open businesses here] because it's a smart place to be," said Katy Maslow, co-owner of Twig Terrariums. "It really comes down to that. There are family-oriented neighborhoods flanking us. It's artistic. It's accessible and it's still not insanely priced, so you can keep your overhead a little bit low. It's a wise choice, and I think women are wise."

Some said they chose the neighborhood because it's wedged in between family-heavy — and affluent — Park Slope and Carroll Gardens.

"Gowanus was pretty much the only place we were looking, especially because of the programs we run. We need to cater to adults and families," said Owyn Ruck, founder of the Textile Arts Center, which offers classes for children and grown-ups.

She added,"It's a very creative environment, so it speaks to women who want to start their own businesses."

Proximity to kids was also a lure for Diaper Kind, a diaper service; Makeville Studio, a woodworking shop in a former sweater factory where kids can learn to build furniture; and Curious Jane, which runs after-school programs and camps for girls. The founders of Curious Jane noticed so much female-driven creative activity in Gowanus that they were inspired to hold an all-women craft and food market this fall at Gowanus Grove.

As they've settled into the neighborhood, women business owners say they've been buoyed by a welcoming, collaborative atmosphere. Some of the businesses trade tips on lawyers or bookkeepers on a shared Google document. Film Biz Recycling worked with women-owned Root Hill Cafe on a coupon book, and Curious Jane will use Two Moon Art House and Cafe, which is owned by two women, as a space for workshops later this fall.

"People are pretty supportive of one another and what they're starting in the area," Ruck said. "They combine forces. It doesn't feel competitive. It feels like we're building the Gowanus area to be something really interesting and cool."