Downtown women

Mel Lescota (left) and Nicole Hyatt (second from left), owners of 2Souls Wine Bar, pose with Taylor Bradbury, a condo owner, and Darlene Tuttle, owner of Sanctuary Design Co.

Darlene Tuttle has operated her business, Sanctuary Design, in Elizabeth City’s downtown for only about a year.

In that time, however, she and other local entrepreneurs are noticing a growing trend: the vast majority of downtown businesses now seem to be run by women.

“It is incredible what has happened downtown in the past couple of years,” said Tuttle, who moved her business here from Powells Point.

Women of all ages are playing an important role the downtown’s revitalization, she said.

Taylor Bradbury is one of the newest entrepreneurs to base her business in the downtown. Bradbury had been away from the area for several years but came back earlier this year after her father died to help run the family’s business, Dwelling Management Solutions, which specializes in mold remediation and indoor air quality.

She also recently expanded into the short-term residential rental business, renting her condo at 603 E. Colonial Avenue, Apt. 1 about 15 days a month through the online housing rental site Airbnb.

“Elizabeth City has always been a good rental market,” she said.

Bradbury said she has found a supportive business environment in Elizabeth City.

“That’s the relationship that a small community brings,” she said.

Bradbury said women who own businesses already do a lot of informal networking. She said a formal organization for women entrepreneurs might be a logical next step.

“I think it might actually be a good idea to form something,” she said. “We are seeing more and more female-owned businesses.

Nicole Hyatt also sees the downtown experiencing a resurgence and upswing. She and Mel Lescota are are preparing for the opening of 2Souls Wine Bar, which will be located in the former Overman-Stevenson Pharmacy building on Main Street.

Hyatt said that over the past year or so she kept hearing about interest in a wine bar. She also recognized how much people were enjoying Ghost Harbor Brewing and hanging out in Pailin’s Alley.

She said she understood from the beginning that she needed a partner with experience in the restaurant industry, and she found that partner in Lescota, who has more than 20 years of experience working in restaurants.

Hyatt said she and Lescota started planning to open the wine bar back in March and are hoping to open before the holidays if COVID restrictions allow.

The wine bar will feature about 1,600 square feet of public space, which Hyatt said is being designed for a “cozy, elegant, romantic” feel. The bar will also feature live music and be available for private parties.

Hyatt and her husband, who is a Coast Guard pilot, moved here in 2008. Her background is in marketing and she has operated a social media marketing firm, Nicole J, for about two years.

She said she has come to appreciate the resources and networking that are available locally, including the Elizabeth City Area Chamber of Commerce, the Small Business Center at College of The Albemarle, and the Eastern Women’s Entrepreneurship Center at Elizabeth City State University.

There is a strong network of women entrepreneurs who are supporting each other, she said.

“It’s just incredible to see,” Hyatt said. “I’m inspired by what I’ve seen the women do around me and it gives me confidence.”

Deborah Malenfant, executive director of Elizabeth City Downtown, Inc., said women have long played a pivotal role in the downtown business community. She cited more than 65 downtown businesses currently owned entirely by women or with women as managing partners.

African-American women have played an especially strong role downtown in recent years, she said.

“Many strong, independent, entrepreneurial women are contributing to the vitality of our downtown,” Malenfant said.

Downtown Elizabeth is currently experiencing a resurgence, and women entrepreneurs are right in the middle of that, she said.