Going big for small business | News, Sports, Jobs

Mari-Pat Beene (left) shows (from left) Bette Slayton, CEO of the Bedford County Development Association, Steve D’Ettorre, state Deputy Secretary of the office of Technology and Innovation, and Madra Clay, Central Region Director for Pennsylvania DCED around her art studio, Pigeon Hill Studios, during a Tuesday walking tour of downtown Bedford. Mirror photo by Rachel Foor

BEDFORD — From an art studio in an old newspaper building to a coffee shop that showcases local artisans in its window, the spotlight was turned on small businesses and their owners Tuesday morning during a walking tour of downtown Bedford to celebrate the Commonwealth’s Small Business Week.

Mari-Pat Beene’s art studio Pigeon Hill Studios was the first stop on the tour. Originally from Greensburg, she has worked in graphic design since 1986. After graduating from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, she moved around, going to San Francisco, Los Angeles and the Washington, DC, metro area.

“When I lived in southern Maryland, there was zero sense of community because it was very transient,” Well said. “Everybody worked up in the DC Metro area.”

Founded in 2017, Beene’s studio offers picture framing services, wheel-thrown and hand-built pottery classes, oil and acrylic painting classes and an art gallery. She even shares her retail space with other small businesses in the area.

“Each business compliments each other,” Well said. “We won’t compete, so it’s a nice collaboration sharing space with three businesses.”

DCED Deputy Secretary of Marketing, Tourism and Film Carrie Fischer Lepore (far right) listens as Next Door owner Hayley Feaster (second left) discusses her coffee shop during a walking tour of downtown Bedford on Tuesday. The event was held in celebration of National Travel and Tourism Week and Small Business Week. Mirror photo by Rachel Foor

Organized by the Wolf administration, the tour also included stops at other popular locations like Bedford Candies; Next Door, a restaurant and gift shop; and Juli’s Wearable Art, a women’s clothing and accessories store.

When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the country in early 2020, Juli’s Wearable Art owner Juli Gonsman said she had to come up with an entirely new business model. To keep her business afloat, she used social media features like Facebook Live, where she often had hundreds of viewers.

“One of the fun facts I think is when we started selling online, I thought it would be people that we knew,” Gonsman said. “We shipped to California, Michigan, all over the place.”

About 88% of Pennsylvania firms that exported goods in 2019 were small businesses — and small firms exported goods worth $12.5 billion, according to a state press release. For every $100 spent at a small business, $48 goes back into the local economy in which the business is located.

“It is the people behind the businesses that support our industry that truly contribute to the diversity and culture of our neighborhoods, cities and towns, regions, and state,” Carrie Fischer Lepore, deputy secretary of marketing, tourism, and film at the Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development, said. “They are the ones that not only make Pennsylvania a great place to visit, but also a wonderful place to call home.”

Mirror Staff Writer Rachel Foor is at 814-946-7458.

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