The Serial Entrepreneur

Fourth generation small business owner opens four stores in downtown Lynchburg.

Stephanie Atkinson is on a business spree.

Atkinson has redefined the meaning of work ethic by opening four individual stores in downtown Lynchburg. Live Trendy or Die, Windblown Apothecary, Conscious Mercantile, and Hoppy Books were each brought to life through her unique vision. The latter two recently merged to create Et Marte, a variety shop that sells wine, cards, books and other trendy items.

Each store reflects a different persona, and as one opened, the next one was conceptualized by finding what was missing.

Atkinson said she is a fourth generation small business owner, and the entrepreneur mindset is in her blood. Despite the immediate challenge she faced in graduating during the 2008 recession, Atkinson was determined to make a way.

“I realized that if I’m going to do it all, then I’m going to go out on my own,” Atkinson said. “Win or lose I’m going to do it for myself.”

Atkinson worked in retail and customer service for about 15 years. Her understanding of hard work has been passed down from generation to generation.

The Atkinson family version of passing the baton of business ownership is represented through a cash box that is given to the next family member who is ready to start their own venture. The fourth generation cash box was used in three out of the four stores opened downtown.

“There is a tradition in small business owners,” Atkinson said. “I know in today’s world people say that previous generations had it better, but in my family by the time you go to open you’re so broke, your family puts the change in for you, so that you can make change for the customers.”

Opening multiple businesses in an environment that is in the process of evolving is difficult. Downtown Lynchburg is in the middle of revitalization, which is helpful for small business owners. However, it’s also a multiple-year plan that impacts the foot and vehicle traffic.

Even before Live Trendy or Die was brought to life in 2015, the owner of the space would only allow a six-month lease, stating that the business would not last past that window of time.

Business challenges are not new to Atkinson and her husband, Kevin Nemcovich. The couple are longtime residents of the Lynchburg area.

“When you own a small business, every day’s a challenge,” Atkinson said. “If it’s not a challenge, then you let something slide.”

Atkinson said that working in business for so long developed skills and knowledge that she needed to open her own outlets.

Atkinson and Nemcovich

Although some may think that owning four small business all within the downtown area is a daunting task, Atkinson has hired dedicated staff for each store. She also has a deep knowledge of the concrete elements that go into owning a business, as well as the small details.

Each small business owner needs an end goal set in place, and that looks different for each owner. At the end of the day, Atkinson said she knows that owning multiple businesses means there are times that one will hold more importance over the other. It is the quality of each storefront that matters.

“Working in the shops is just a really special experience, it’s a community of people, both employees and customers,” said Katelyn Verbeke, Senior at Liberty University and Brand Representative for Live Trendy or Die. “We have so many regulars and they feel a part of the community too. To be a part of that is really awesome… I don’t take it for granted and I get to learn a little bit more about business.”

Atkinson explained she does not just want stores that look like they run well, but actually run well and to provide the customers with quality products. With the growth of downtown Lynchburg there is more opportunity for small businesses.

If things continue to grow, Atkinson said she would consider opening more businesses downtown.

“Everything has to fall into the right place,” Atkinson said. “With everything going on in Lynchburg, a lot of people are making crazy bets right now that Lynchburg is going to continue to grow.”

Reidy is a contributor. 

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