Representation matters. It’s not just a motto or saying. For Ecodessa owner Caeresa Richards, it’s a way of life developed over a long road to today.
“Prior to starting Ecodessa, I was a degreed engineer. I worked in engineering for quite a while,” she said. “During that time, I’ve always been interested in fashion and I always imagined myself like owning a boutique one day when I retire.”
What she considers an “early retirement” has blossomed into a successful store with clientele across the nation. Roots downtown in the Salt City have lead to Ecodessa as a brand becoming something that fuels livelihoods.
“I wanted to do it as a way to initiate the conversation and to encourage others to see themselves as business owners downtown and to take risks to open businesses down there because it really is a risk,” she said.
That risk is turning more and more into rewards as the trend of minority-owned businesses is on the rise in downtown locales. Take, for example, All Things Plush, localted on Jefferson Avenue, owner Ciarah Richards.
“Being downtown on this amazing spot has caught a lot of people walking back and forth,” she said.
Once a home customizing operation, All Things Plush is a business that helps represent history and passion.
“I always sold when I got to high school. I took a fashion class and it was more so embroidery,” Ciarah said. “Later on in life, after I had my son who was turning 8, and I was like, you know, this was the age or my grandma was making me like pajamas and stuff.”
Part of the Black Equity and Excellence grant that the Central New York Community Foundation created, the Ecodessa Retail Incubator grants were born and five businesses in prominent downtown storefronts are headed by proud women of color.
“This that means a lot because I built it from the ground up. I went from my house to a storefront in downtown, which for Black woman in business, that means a lot to because there’s not a lot of Black women in downtown,” said Ciarah.
To many, downtown is starting to come alive again, more closer resembling the community as a whole.
“I feel like there’s been a renaissance of Black women business owners lately, so it means a lot to be a part of it,” Richards said.
“I feel like what I was bringing [was] awareness to a challenge in our community,” added Caeresa. “I’m happy that people notice that I am so thrilled. I’m really happy if that’s the only thing that I did downtown.”
Caeresa and Richards understand that initial ownership is half the battle. The five winners of the incubator grants and many more are building a network of Black business owners that will stand the test of time with mentoring and resources.