Pamela Gamez of Tucson Ariz. smile as she shops in downtown Ripon.                      

Almost 32 years ago this young pup attended his first of what were to become months of Ripon Business Association (RBA) meetings.

Sitting around the conference room table of the A&W on Seward Street were owners or managers of Ripon retail businesses, among them: Bob Mathia, Diedrich Jewelers; Ron Suits, Haase Shoes; Dave Gitzel, Ripon Drug; Mark Belau, Ripon Ace Hardware; Dave Schroeder, Five-County Shopping News; Paul Veleke, Paul’s TV; Sean Wyer, Domino’s Pizza; John Barfknecht, Ripon A&W.

All men. I felt right at home.

Actually, Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Carolyn Seawell was there, too, but she didn’t own a business at the time.

Compare 1990 with 2021; Ripon has undergone a retail revolution, and survived it quite well, thank you, due in no small part to the fact that women have provided the capital, vision and energy in a realm once dominated by males.

Some of the downtown we came to know in the latter half of the 20th century — hardware stores, bakeries, apparel shops, drug stores, meat markets, jewelers, hair salons/barbers, restaurants, service businesses, movie theater — remain.

But as large shopping malls and big-box stores began to draw shoppers away from America’s central cities, and on-line offers accelerated the downtown diaspora, cities’ retail areas had to transform themselves or become road kill on the avenue of commerce.

In Ripon, the downtown fought back by gradually reimagining itself.

Many deserve credit for the resurgence of vitality, vim and vigor that this renewed vision welcomed.

That list includes the Rogers family, who still today are betting on our community’s future with their time, talent and treasure; Ripon Main Street volunteers and executive director Craig Tebon, who for 30 years believed that historically appropriate renovation, special events and business recruitment could fuel a retail renaissance; and the public, which has supported downtown by just showing up, often arriving armed with just wallets and purses and leaving with shopping bags.

But toward the top of the list are the sharp, female business owners who have discerned what is an appropriate product/service mix for a small, can-do college town market.

Barbecue? Brilliant!

A garden store? Dig it!

An ice cream parlor? We all scream for ice cream.

More home-decor boutiques? Perfect complement to the growing number of women’s apparel shops.

A second-generation jeweler? This family business’s female owners have redesigned their store for 21st century shoppers.

From Adeva, Adorn and American Alchemy to Soul Patina and Traded Treasures Thrift Boutique — and all those businesses in between — women business overseers are changing Ripon’s retail landscape for the better.

As Dear Prudence owner Ellen Sorensen told Commonwealth reporter Joe Schulz in a story last week, “When you have women doing that [owning and managing downtown businesses], you’re going to get not only a different take on a business, but you also get that entrepreneurial spirit in which women are actually developing products that people don’t know they need.”

And people — men and women — are noticing.

At a Ripon Rotary meeting last week, Rotarians were effusive with their praise and pride for the city’s downtown.

“Now I drive through downtown and I feel uplifted,” Rick Coles said.

Bill Boesch observed that a group of women, asked why they had driven an hour from Portage to Ripon, explained that they loved to shop in the city’s quaint, unique array of shops.

So now seated at the metaphorical table, once the almost exclusive domain of men, are smart, confident, hard-working entrepreneurs, most of whom not coincidentally are women.

They are the right people at the right time.

“It’s about time,” Patina Vie owner Sarah Willet said in last week’s story. “Women are amazing, multi-taskers, anticipators, leaders, friends and dreamers, who know how to get it done. It’s how we’re wired and programmed.”

Working collaboratively, they are helping turn a downtown, once beleaguered by consumer flight to strip malls and shopping centers, into a critical mass of stores providing consumers with first-class customer service as they shop for what they want, need and didn’t know existed.

— Tim Lyke

(1) comment

Dale Failor

More small shops have come and gone from Ripon for the same reason. They are all the same with a new twist. Clothing stores are way more expensive than out of town. Ice cream shops never make it, small restaurants with limited hrs. are not around long except for one I know of. K Mart has been gone two years in Dec. and no takers yet. This city needs new ideas and more Good restaurants as well as pizza places. A college town with a couple pizza places, give me a break.

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