There’s a Wave of Female Entrepreneurs in Rockaway Beach and We’re Here for It

There’s no place like Rockaway Beach. That’s not a mantra, just a fact. Nonlocals are often surprised to learn that New York City has a beach, never mind one with good surf, a small-town feel and sleepy winters. The dichotomy of being in urban Queens but nestled between two national parks—Fort Tilden and Charles Memorial—makes Rockaway a unique piece of the city’s puzzle.

While most of us only trek to the Rockaways during the warmer months, a community of surfers and artists have decided to make the peninsula their home year-round. As more people ditch their jobs in Manhattan and Brooklyn to be at the beach full-time, small businesses have cropped up by the dozens. And a whole lot of them are owned by women. So what exactly fostered this wave of female entrepreneurship?

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Jaime Schultz, owner of Rockaway Retreat House and vice chair and cofounder of Ladies of Business Rockaway Beach, noticed the trend of female-owned businesses on the peninsula, and in May 2016, while at a beach bonfire (naturally), the idea for LBRB was born.

“We noticed a movement and we wanted a support group,” said Schultz. By September 2017, LBRB became a legal nonprofit. Currently, the association has about 70 members, with anywhere from 15 to 30 members showing up to monthly meetings. The gatherings allow women in the community to connect and use one another as resources, whether that’s asking for website help or offering bookkeeping services. And the retreat house also hosts weekly meditation and yoga sessions as well as monthly dinners on the porch.

“I think there’s something about Rockaway that encourages people to take an idea further or ask themselves “Why not?’” says Emily Seager, founder of Zoca Lotion, a line of plant-based, ocean-safe sunscreens and skin care. “There’s definitely a sense of Rockaway pride that makes people want to support this kind of growth. And it’s not just one type of thing. The kinds of businesses women are running here are pretty varied and specialized.” LBRB provides an interactive map on its website, with everything from bakeries and doulas to real estate offices and vintage shops.

Aside from the gumption that the beach seems to inspire, there are tangible benefits to starting a business out on the peninsula. “Its proximity to the city is huge. That and the fact that our summer customer base is largely made up of the 4 million–plus visitors who come to enjoy our beaches,” explains Abra Boero, owner of clothing brand and concept shop Off Season. “We have built-in foot traffic that is hard to simulate anywhere else. Rents are still affordable, press is buzzy. We also have a growing local community of forward-thinking individuals who understand the importance of shopping small.”

And while the summer is no doubt a busy time for Rockaway business owners, there’s a benefit to winters on the beach as well. Jenny Wichman, owner of Yew Yew Shop, a high-design line of smoking accessories (and a platform for destigmatizing cannabis), finds the insulation of winter motivating. “I think part of what is so helpful about building a company in Rockaway is the level of isolation. You’re not in the middle of the city, so you don’t have a ton of distractions. Also, in the winter there really isn’t much else to do besides buckle down and focus on your company. Then in the summer, enjoy the sun and let your hard work from the winter pay off.”

Sarah Trogdon, owner of Goldie’s Natural Beauty, also can’t ignore the call of the water. “Well, for me, from June to October the respite of the ocean is the greatest benefit of starting a business in Rockaway.” Goldie’s, like many other local products, is produced in Rockaway but does not have its own brick-and-mortar. Thanks to the support from the community, many retailers in the area carry products from the Goldie’s line, including Off Season and Zingara Vintage, both female owned.

Morgan Mack, a Rockaway native and owner of Rockaway Candle Co., also didn’t need a physical storefront to launch. “Because of Rockaway’s tight-knit community, many of my customers have known me since I was a kid and love to support my small business.” Mack has now turned her candle-making hobby into a full-time business.

Fabiola Sheppard, owner of Handmade Cocoon, was also given a supportive boost from the community. “It was thanks to a duo of amazing local female business owners that I saw the possibility of having my own small business,” says Sheppard. “Tara and Beth, from End of the A, were the first ones to sell my winter items in their boutique, and they gave me the push and confidence to continue building my craft.” Aside from crocheted sweaters, macramé plant hangers and handwoven tapestries, Sheppard’s business now also includes private classes and parties, as well as workshops at the Rockaway Cottage.

The influx of self-starting women also aims to reinvigorate the local community. “The word gentrification gets thrown around a lot,” says Boero, “but the truth of the matter is that there’s room out here for everyone. It’s not as if existing businesses are being replaced by new ones; rather, we’re building commercial districts from the ground up, putting life where there were once long-abandoned storefronts and defunct commercial spaces.”

Ultimately, Schultz explains being a Rockaway business owner best: “Sometimes I’ll be taking a call on the beach thinking, ‘I’m getting away with something here.’” We think so too.

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Maggie McGlinchy

Freelance PureWow Editor

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