Recognized as the cultural and financial anchor of a well-balanced and highly engaged community, Camas is rapidly becoming a “first choice” destination. In addition, the charming town is blooming with big-city economics due to its growing population of female entrepreneurs. Among the 70 successful independent shopping, beauty and wellness, and dining businesses in downtown Camas, 57% are solely owned and operated by women. This is significant because it means female entrepreneurs in Camas are a driving force behind the city’s success as a destination hub.
Camas Small Business Owners Start With a Dream
“The women entrepreneurs in our town have strong business acumen and also understand how to create a quality and welcoming experience,” says Carrie Schulstad, executive director for the Downtown Camas Association. “Our town feels the way it does in large part to the persistence, hard work, and attention to detail that our women-owned small businesses bring to downtown every day.”
Schulstad was quick to point out that men create meaningful experiences too, but the fact that Camas blooms with female entrepreneurs adds to the city’s allure.
“You have to move through the fear,” says Suzanne Ferguson, owner of Juxtaposition in Camas. “The fear or uncertainty isn’t something that goes away, so you have faith and do your best.”
Ferguson’s business success is a mixture of her hard work, business savvy, and pure joy for what she does. Ferguson explains that she knew she always wanted a small downtown business – preferably in Camas – on the main street atmosphere, for her traditional to modern home furnishings. This dream came true in February 2019. Nestled in the historic Camas-Washougal Post Record building, Ferguson preserved much of the building’s original integrity while putting her unique design spin on the shop’s ambiance. Now, just three years later, thanks to creating unforgettable experiences for her customers, she is opening a second store in Ridgefield in March 2023. Her advice for success is to ask yourself what could bring you joy every day and still be challenging and creative.
“I get excited to come to work,” shares Ferguson spiritedly. “I love being here, and I love my team. I love getting to merchandise and put products together in a creative way. I also love helping customers discover their own creativity.”
Gail Horn, the owner of The Soap Chest, a retail store that sells handmade botanical soap built her success step by step. Horn, a certified soap maker, got her start in 2000 in her home. She first sold her products for many years at the farmer’s market. Horn’s dream was to open her own shop in downtown Camas, which she and her husband designed and built from the ground up and opened in 2015. “It was slow, measured and calculated,” says Horn. “I didn’t jump into it.” Making soaps for Horn is a perfect blend between creativity and practicality. Benefits of being a business owner? Horn says it is great to be your own boss, call all the shots and make all the decisions. “But” she says spiritedly, “this is maybe one of the challenges too!”
Downtown Camas Businesses Grow Under Woman Ownership
Entrepreneurs are continually inspired by a vision of the future created in their minds. Michelle Van Tassel, the owner of Caps N’ Taps, wanted to develop a sense of community in downtown Camas. “This was my goal going in,” says Van Tassel. She purchased Caps N’ Taps in 2018 and enhanced and grew the popular taphouse known for its craft beers and specialty brews. “I wanted to create a community gathering place with a ‘Cheers’ like feel for people.”
Van Tassel’s winning combination for success included talking to regular customers to learn what was most important to them and then combining that with her vision of the taphouse. “Life is short,” says Van Tassel, “so if you have a passion and a dream, then just do it.”
Van Tassel is not the only business owner in Camas to elevate an existing business to new heights. Moonlight Salon owner Megan Strand purchased her business from its original owner – also a woman – in 2016. She moved the business to a larger Camas venue, rebranded and created a hair salon like none other in the area. In addition, Strand expanded her team of stylists from 4 to 13 in six years. Her mission was to create an environment for herself and her stylists that promoted zero worry and maximum creativity. “It was important to me to create a work-life balance for our stylists,” says Strand. “We are like a family, and it is nice to come to work and have that support system.”
Strand’s secret for success? “Leaning into the community and having mentors and people to support you who do the same thing,” shares Strand. “You learn to balance the ups and downs, and there are plenty of good days.”
Camas Antiques, gift, garden, and home shop, owned by JoAnn Taylor, has been operating for 18 years. The thriving business results from a dream, perseverance and sheer work. Taylor features 70 vintage vendors and has 12 spaces to sell novel items. “The spaces change constantly, and it is important to have the store look different all the time,” says Taylor. Taylor attributes the success of her shop to her excellent team of employees, her business partner, Kristen Danis and her many customers.
For more information on local women entrepreneurs, visit the Downtown Camas Association website.