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9/28/2003

Junior achievement

By Pam Mellskog
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — Personal and professional pursuits can — with zero associated scandal — make cozy bedfellows.

After all, living above the family-run funeral home or behind the front-room hair salon or even right on the farm is how the folks in generations past shortened the loop between domestic responsibilities and commercial endeavors.

In 2003, those time-worn practical arrangements that drifted out as the women’s movement marched forward seem like tempting fruit to working mothers starving for flexibility.

For some, buying into lifestyle overlap has caused them to toss out the strict work/home separation forged by working women in the late 1970s and 1980s, according to Jennifer Gill, a senior editor at the New York City-based Working Mother magazine.

“Baby Boomer moms blazed a trail with the glass-ceiling issues and women’s advancement. They were trying hard to fit into a man’s world by not letting family life creep into their work life,” she said. “Gen X moms want more flexibility in the workforce.”

Today, women-owned businesses employ 27.5 million people and generate $3.6 trillion annually, according to the Small Business Administration.

But a new segment — women choosing self-employment primarily as a means to greater flexibility — is bolstering that number, said Ann Harton, director of sales for the Longmont Chamber of Commerce.

“Every year of my eight years with the Chamber, I’ve seen more and more people filling that niche,” she said.

Longmont resident Betsy Hanlin decided that cutting the apron strings to punch a clock was not worth it. In August, the former dental receptionist bought Little Blessings Maternity, 418 Coffman St., with her mother-in-law and another mom with the same vision.

“It’s like when you’re a little girl playing store,” she said. “And here I am, a 28-year-old mother of two — it’s like playing store again.”

The first-time business owner could have balked at the purchasing preliminaries alone. They ranged from reviewing the stock-purchase agreement with a lawyer to figuring taxes with an accountant.

“I don’t care much about that,” she said.

But dressing pregnant women well — with Connor, 3, and Madison, 7 months, at the counter or within earshot playing in the back room with their grandma — galvanized her determination, she said.

Sometimes, daily tasks remind her that she is a newbie at being in charge. While placing a nursing bra order recently, she relayed the color and stock number like an old hand — until the saleswoman asked about sizes.

“I said, ‘Oh yeah. Bras come in different sizes,’” Hanlin said.

Another Longmont woman just last week switched from customer to owner upon buying Sammy Bear, a drop-in pre-school education and recreation center for parents and children at 655 S. Sunset St.

Though Kelly Epstein, 33, had a sales and marketing background — she most recently pitched ads for KFOG radio in San Francisco — she never dreamed of owning her own business either.

But this mom got inspired when she realized firsthand how isolating parenting can be.

“When you’re at the park, are you just going to go up and start talking to (other) parents? Here, it’s instant community,” she said.

Epstein carefully surveyed the local niche possibilities before discussing the purchase with the founder and owner. When all the signals seemed green, she bought it and started bringing 17-month-old Cameron with her to work — a place where a lot of other little shoes get ditched at the door.

Mornings and afternoons, Cameron plays with the kiddy clientele while Epstein sallies to and fro on the toy-scattered floor serving parents. By midmorning, it’s naptime, and that is when Epstein does bookwork at the front counter.

“This integrates my life,” she said.

Perhaps Pam Turner, owner of Airborne Gymnastics & Dance, epitomizes that ideal. She ordered blueprints that included an apartment big enough for her husband and two daughters when she built her new “dream” facility in 1996 at 1816 Boston Ave.

“It’s kind of an old-fashioned thing,” she said. “Sometimes my kids say, ‘I wish we lived in a normal neighborhood.’”

But the arrangement enabled Turner, 40, to coach other kids while keeping a close eye on her offspring and the bottom line both. Since 1991, she has boosted membership from 300 students to about 1,000 and more than doubled the original 5,000 square feet, she said.

Some businesses never will tolerate toddlers in the mix for reasons ranging from distraction to danger. Yet, for other companies, it comes down to priorities and preferences in recruiting and retaining talent, Harton said.

“I think there are two kinds of companies just like there are two kinds of grandparents. Some like kids. Others say, ‘You know I have white carpeting now. So you stay away, and I’ll come to your house for an hour.’”

Pam Mellskog can be reached at 303-776-2244 Ext. 224 or by e-mail at pmellskog@times-call.com.