Downtown Johnstown business owner Sharon Honkus will soon be celebrating 21 years of making women look and feel beautiful.
Honkus is the owner of Celestial Brides, which offers women’s attire for weddings, school formals and other special occasions – carrying designers such as Sherri Hill Couture, Jovani, Johnathan Kayne and MacDuggal.
The veteran entrepreneur is one of the many women now leading and operating businesses in the region.
“I think there were always women business owners in the area. They just do it,” Honkus said. “It’s not grandiose or anything like that, they just get the job done. I decided I worked too hard to be working for someone else, and that’s when I decided to open my own business.
“There’s a lot of women business owners in the city that have been doing it for years,” she said. “I think anybody, male or female, if you work and go after your dream, it’s achievable by anybody.”
According to statistics provided by the National Association of Women Business Owners: More than 11.6 million firms are owned by women nationally, employing nearly
9 million people, and generating $1.7 trillion in sales in 2017.
Women-owned firms account for 39 percent of all privately held firms and contribute 4.2 percent of revenues.
“I think those gender roles or gender specifics have gone away,” Honkus said. “There was a time where there was gender specific, but in the year 2019, I don’t think people go in and they’re surprised it’s a woman doctor. I don’t think people are surprised when they see the CEO of a very large company being a woman, like that would have been looked on in the ’60s and ’70s.
“I think we are so far past that,” she said “In the 21 years I’ve been in business I’ve been treated with respect from City Hall, (county) commissioners and the community. After the first couple of years in business, people took me serious. And I don’t think that it was because I was a woman. ... I think it was because I was successful.”
While confident in her business approach, Honkus recalled a time that she wasn’t taken seriously.
She said the head of the economic development for the city “brushed me off when I said I was putting in a high-end bridal shop.” Honkus said. “We still laugh about that to this day.
“I don’t think it was about taking me serious or not because I was a woman. It was more about presenting an idea that for whatever reason people didn’t think would work.”
‘Built on passion’
Down the street from Celestial Brides sits Balance Restaurant. The restaurant’s owner, Amanda Artim, is somewhat new to the block. Her eatery opened for business in early March and is now nearing its one-year anniversary.
Artim said she has definitely noticed and is happy to see a rise in local female business owners.
“Even the impact of women downtown in general has been amazing to watch,” she said. “You have such amazing women like Melissa Radovanic (Crown American and Discover Downtown Johnstown Partnership) and Melissa Komar (Johnstown Redevelopment Authority), just to name two of the many. They’re trying to do so much for the region.
“It’s amazing to watch the excitement of local businesswomen who really want to make a difference, so I’m definitely proud to be a part of that.”
Artim doesn’t believe her journey in business was any different because she is a woman.
“Honestly, my path was built on passion, and I think that is true for a man or a woman,” she said. “You’re driven to do something because of passion. That’s what makes a successful business owner.
“I’m proud of what we have accomplished here,” Artim said.
“I’m very proud of my team and the efforts of everybody that puts their heart and soul into this place – everybody, because it’s not just me.”
Whether running an upstart or an established business, Artim said the key is targeting goals and paying attention to details.
“Stay focused on what that vision is,” she said. “And don’t let anything deter you from that vision.”
‘Set the standard’
Camillya Taylor recently added some flare to downtown Johnstown with the opening of Camille’s House of Styles Boutique at 419 Lincoln St.
The downtown site is the second location Taylor has opened under the same name. The original Camille’s House of Styles Salon and Boutique is located in the city’s Moxham neighborhood.
“If you stay true to being a lady, you kind of set the standard of what you want,” Taylor said. “I think there’s a lot of businesses waiting. I would like to be that open door for them. If I could help in any way, I definitely want to be a part of that.
“Sometimes being African-American, you get a stereotype,” she said. “Growing up, I never lived with those stereotypes. We weren’t allow to believe that way. My dad didn’t raise daughters, he raised leaders. There’s no gender in a leader. The sky’s the limit.”
According to the National Association of Women Business Owners, 5.4 million firms are majority-owned by women of color in the United States.
These firms employ 2.1 million people and generate $361 billion in revenue, the association reports.
Taylor said her dream is to one day franchise her boutiques, which offer products made or sold by locals, including Audiovisual Apparel – the Flygene clothing designed by Anthony Jacobs and Paparazzi jewelry sold by Tiffany Hardison, who operates Tiffany’s Treasured Jewels.
“When you go in to a community, you go in, you see the need and you provide the need,” Taylor said. “I’m just going to be the best at what I can do.”