Cutting through obstacles

Local women find strength, resources to start and stay in business

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When Darcey Walker arrived in Craig more than four years ago, she said opening a business here was like trying to learn a foreign language.

"It is a different atmosphere," Walker said of the difference between Craig and her former home of Woodland, Calif. "This change has also been one of the most humbling experiences of my life."

Walker, who had her own salon in California, had to leap through hurdles, such as waiting for her cosmetology license to transfer to Colorado.

She worked for others at a variety of salons in Craig before being able to open her own business, Studio 7.

Women in Craig and Colorado face challenges when trying to start their own businesses, said Eileen Yokoyama Reed, director of the Small Business Center in Denver.

Reed said the number one challenge to women who want to start their own businesses is access to capital.

"There are no grants or loans to women," said Reed, who also served on the Governor's Economic Council for Women.

Reed said the easiest market women can break into right now would be homeland security.

"Like if a woman wanted to sell gas masks she could get federal funding," Reed said.

Reed said women entrepreneurs in rural areas face a tougher battle because they do not have access to "peer lending" opportunities available in urban areas that are interest free and require no collateral.

Fran DiBartolo, director of the Small Business Development Center in Craig, said when applying for smal1 business loans, first and foremost, women must have good credit.

Secondly, women need to show good accounting practices, DiBartolo said.

DiBartolo said women who get into business often make the mistake of not having a plan and "not knowing what their business is going to be."

Another aspect that women must become familiar with is the market in which they plan on opening their business or their "business visibility," DiBartolo said.

"One thing that women do is open duplicate restaurants next door to each other," DiBartolo said.

This is because they are not familiar with the demographics of the area, she said.

The economic downturn that has taken the nation as well as Colorado is not always doom and gloom, according to Reed.

Reed said some women who find themselves out of a job find the revolving door of constantly working for others unfulfilling and get inspired to open their own businesses.

While Walker found navigating the local business climate as tricky as learning a foreign

language, Warapan Wooden, who opened her business in Craig in 1987, actually had to learn a foreign language.

Wooden is a native of Bangkok, Thailand, and moved to Craig in June of 1969.

The 52-year-old owns Wallies Restaurant, which was originally located at Centennial

Mall but moved in 1992 to its current location at 410 Ranney St.

Wooden said she learned about cooking from her mother starting at the age of seven but no one was there to teach her how to run a business.

She said she learned about the mechanics of business through the school of hard knocks, saying she felt that contractors may have taken advantage of her because she is a woman.

While these initial experiences were negative, Wooden said ultimately they made her a better business owner because now she is more conscientious about contracting issues -- from prices of fixtures to repairs -- and she continues to educate herself about the odds and ends of restaurant upkeep.

DiBartolo said women business owners no longer have to rely on the school of hard knocks because of the abundance of resources that exist for those who want to strike out on their own.

These resources include one-on-one consulting, which is offered by the Small Business Center at no charge, a variety of training sessions as well as assistance to those businesses that already are established.

The center, DiBartolo said, also can assist women in devising business plans, analysis and assessments of new businesses and business visibility studies.

Classes also are offered in October at Colorado Northwest Community College-Craig that cover marketing, business analysis,

small business demographics and business visibility.

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