Meet the Female Founders of Downtown Stillwater

by | Feb 2023

Jill Kaufenberg

Jill Kaufenberg, Lift Bridge Cowork and Chopper Mill. Photos: Jill Kaufenberg, Lift Bridge Cowork and Chopper Mill

Stillwater’s Main Street is home to a community of woman-driven businesses.

In the hustle and bustle of downtown Stillwater, visitors can get a cup of Joe or a green juice; shop for a new outfit or decor; stop in for a bite to eat or a sip; or get into conversation and learn of the astonishing things that the area’s female business owners are doing.

“In conversation with some other local business owners … We collectively came to the realization that a large majority of the Stillwater downtown area is made up of female-owned and led businesses,” say Melissa Parkos and Emily Iannazzo, co-owners of The Goodery, a fresh-pressed juicery, and Good + Well Consulting. “… We were just caught off guard and amazed as we started looking at all of the shops on Main Street specifically that are now owned by ladies.”

Emily Iannazzo and Melissa Parkos

Emily Iannazzo and Melissa Parkos, The Goodery and Good + Well Consulting

The historic downtown side streets are composed of clothing boutiques, art galleries, culinary and specialty shops, gift stores, home decor spots, antique shops, cafes, nightlife venues, inns and more. And on Main Street and the surrounding areas, many of the businesses are female owned and driven.

Jenn Hovland, owner of Studio Louise Flowers, says, “I hadn’t thought about … how many of the businesses are female owned. Then I did, and I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, it is predominantly women owned down here, and that is amazing.’”

Jenn Hovland

Jenn Hovland, Studio Louise Flowers

Noting the changing dynamic of downtown Stillwater and the opening of new boutique hotels, Parkos says, “We’re always a destination, and we’re on board for it. People want to come here for the day, but they’re also staying, which is helpful for all the businesses. So it’s up to us to feed off each other, make recommendations and do events together. A lot of it is word of mouth.”

“It’s really boots on the ground, popping in stores to chat with the owners,” Iannazzo says. Both Parkos and Iannazzo note that the connection between all the business owners has matured to a friendly community.

Hovland was welcomed into this community without hesitation. She saw an open building on Main Street during COVID-19 and wanted to expand her floral design business; she took the leap and opened her floral studio downtown. “I love being on Main Street. It’s super vibrant,” she says. “The community of Stillwater has embraced me … I’ve made a lot of connections with the other businesses, and I’ve gotten to know the other ladies who are running the businesses, and we can support each other just by providing references and bringing business to each other.”

Jill Kaufenberg, owner of Lift Bridge Cowork and more recently Chopper Mill, has known Parkos since Parkos owned Jori and June in downtown Stillwater and has always respected entrepreneurs. She majored in entrepreneurship in college and worked in medical device sales for 15 years before taking a chance on opening her own business.

In 2019, similarly to Hovland, Kaufenberg was driving down Main Street to take her children to piano lessons, and she saw a historic building for sale. “I thought it would be neat to redo the building [and] thought it would be an amazing addition to downtown Stillwater,” she says. “I told my husband that we should buy it, redo it and bring it back to its original glory from 1885.”

Now, post-renovation, the building is home to the female-owned Mon Petit Chéri bakery and Kaufenberg’s own business, Lift Bridge Cowork. “The women in Stillwater and the women business owners in Stillwater are very supportive, very loyal, and anybody would do anything for anybody on Main Street,” she says. “It’s really incredible, and the most rewarding part of my job, and I think for many small businesses … it’s those relationships and the supportive acts of kindness that make our Main Street so special.”

Nearly four years after opening Lift Bridge Cowork, Kaufenberg found herself looking into another project—now known as Chopper Mill—and she attributes the starting of that business to the support she received from the local female business community (and her kids, who consistently lost their mittens!). “Had it not been for Main Street and its supportive women, I may not have started Chopper Mill, and it’s the most fun I’ve had in my career to date,” she says. Chopper Mill is an e-commerce platform specializing in mittens for kids. It features a unique re/PAIR Plan, where the first single Chopper Mill mitten that’s lost is replaced for free, as well as a single replacement option. “I’m so thankful for all their support, and I can’t be more excited about their businesses,” she says.

Stillwater High School class of 1983 graduate Chris John, owner of Whatnot Boutique, also noticed a vacancy on Chestnut Street during the pandemic. She’d previously owned boutiques in New Hampshire, where she and her family lived for 15 years, a mobile boutique truck in the Twin Cities, plus boutiques in neighboring communities. The Chestnut Street location of Whatnot Boutique has been open for two-and-a-half years, but her latest location (she also has a storefront in White Bear Lake) opened April 2022.

Chris John

Chris John, Whatnot Boutique

“I feel that the last three years have been my time to blossom,” she says. “I had cancer three years ago—I’m in remission now, thankfully—then COVID hit hard … As great as it’s been on Chestnut, deep down, I always wanted to be right on Main.”

In the business community, John says, “It has been great to get to know other women business owners in town who are all interested in promoting the same vision. Real things, including opening hours, downtown events, where we’re doing well and what we’re struggling with. We talk openly and most importantly see how we can improve even more!”

Although having a female-led business is inspiring in itself, many of the women note it’s an example for their children—showing them what hard work is, teaching them leadership and communication skills and more.

Parkos says, “It’s hard because I believe women, especially those with children, have an expectation of taking care of the kids, the doctor appointments and all the other things, that a lot of people are discouraged to go into business for themselves because it’s like, ‘How can I even do that?’ It’s hard and stressful trying to manage a household, kids and a business, but it’s important to show to other women that you can do it. It won’t be easy, but you absolutely can do it.”

Kaufenberg agrees. She involves her children in as many aspects of Chopper Mill as possible. “I really want to set an example for my kids about work ethic, hard work and building something from the ground up,” she says. Her children, ages 12, 10 and 7, joined her at a festival booth this past year where they sold mittens, and they are learning customer service and communication skills. “At the end of the day, you can tie back into these lessons when you’re a women-owned and a mother-owned business, and even though it is another entity to run, it’s actually more efficient [when] instilling those values into your kids,” Kaufenberg says.

Iannazzo says, “Our favorite part is knowing how hard it is and finding ways to lift up other female entrepreneurs, and connecting to make it easier for all of us, collaboratively, is huge for all of us.”

It’s a sentiment that’s shared. “You can’t be successful on your own,” John says. “Being involved in my hometown makes me feel that I am right where I am supposed to be—in the best town and working with great, like-minded people!”

Chopper Mill
Facebook: Chopper Mill
Instagram: @choppermillinc
Pinterest: Chopper Mill
Twitter: @choppermill

The Goodery
402 Main St. N.; 651.346.8335
Facebook: The Goodery
Instagram: @thegoodery

Lift Bridge Cowork
310 ½ Main St. S.; 651.300.4952
Facebook: Lift Bridge Cowork
Instagram: @liftbridge_cowork
Twitter: @liftbridgework

Studio Louise Flowers
210 Main St. S.; 651.327.0644
Facebook: Studio Louise Flowers/ Fleur de Louise Flower Studio
Instagram: @studiolouiseflowers

Whatnot Boutique
223 Main St. S.; 612.231.3131
Facebook: Whatnot Boutique
Instagram: @whatnotboutique


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