Sussex Borough’s women-owned businesses show how success can be a community affair

The Borough of Sussex is brimming with some ambitious female business owners who balance family with work and have created quite the camaraderie.

| 14 Jun 2022 | 10:06

Many may have passed through the Borough of Sussex on their way east or west on Route 23, or weaving through Newton Street and up past Cornerstone Playhouse to continue on their way north. It’s certainly worth a stop and has a number of very vibrant businesses, many of which are owned by women.

Patrick and Stephanie Walsh Simpson launched their store CBD of Newton after Patrick had a cancer scare.

CBD of Newton started, as the name indicates, in Newton. Business was booming, Walsh Simpson had been furloughed due to COVID, and the time came to open a second location. They chose Sussex and that store is Walsh Simpson’s baby, as she is a 51-percent owner and her husband is 49 percent.

“I suffer with severe anxiety, which has led me to turn to cannabis for relief,” she said. “I was prescribed Xanax, Lexapro, and Klonopin to help with my anxiety. A few months on these medications, and I was no longer ‘healing.’ Instead, I quickly found myself reaching for the pills, and I couldn’t be without them. Six months after being on these medications, my addiction to substance abuse soon became my reality. I was tired of the unhealthy cycle that I was in.”

While weening off of the medications, she stumbled upon CBD on a counter of a gas station. Without hesitation, she purchased the CBD flower and gummies.

“I had even started seeing these products in my local grocery store and pharmacy but since it was still so new, no one was able to educate me on the proper use and benefits,” Walsh Simpson said. “I had only heard bits and pieces around this new cannabinoid and how it could help with anxiety. So, with the help of my husband, Patrick, we did our own research. I noticed relief within minutes. I was using both the flower and gummies simultaneously and noticed that my nausea from decreasing my medication dosage, and panic attacks had quickly suppressed. I was finally seeing positive results.”

Her twins, Maison and Kieran, were born on December 26, 2021, and she also has a 10-year-old, Gavin, who has been her big helper.

Walsh Simpson is a true believer in the adage, “it takes a village.”

“While entrepreneurship isn’t easy, I have been so lucky to find a community that has the same beliefs as I do. It is so important to feel accepted and find support. I feel very connected to other women business owners in this community and for that I am so grateful.”

Christine Zydel’s Tips & Toes full service nail and hair salon opened in 2012 at 5 Loomis Avenue.

The Wantage resident had years and years of experience and had owned Nails by Christine, in Parsippany for over a decade.

“My kids were the perfect age for me to go back to work, plus I would be close to home and their school. I decided on Sussex, I believe, for the same reason that the other women started their business in town: it’s a perfect situation and you can work and still raise your family close to home.”

Zydel also enjoys the connections she’s made with other female business owners in town.

“I believe that the camaraderie that we all have formed is respect and support,” she said. “We are all trying to do the same thing, which is take care of our families and put food on our tables.”

She feels balancing family and running a business is a challenge, but one she embraces.

“I guess the best way for me to some up how I balance it all — wife, mother and business owner — is that my family comes first always,” Zydel said. “I just move forward and try to make the best of it because at the end it always works out.”

She successfully navigated COVID, but now is worried about a new challenge: inflation.

“With this happening, it affects our everyday expenses of running a small business in a small town. It unfortunately puts us in a bad situation, because then you have no choice but to raise your prices and that’s the last thing you want to do.”

Sasha Thomas and her husband, Darnell, opened Sasha’s Famous Empanadas in November of 2017. They’re located at 52 Main Street.

“If you don’t take chances in life, your chances on becoming successful are low,” Thomas said.

The business prides itself on great customer service, and Thomas said she enjoys not only being a female co-business owner but their location in Sussex.

Lorenzo’s is a pizzeria located at 67 Main Street and is co-owned by Laurie Case and her husband. They opened the business in 2010.

“I love our town because it’s unique in its own way,” she said. “We have awesome customers, too. I watch my two grandchildren during the day and work at the pizzeria at night. We have a great staff who help our pizzeria grow. I’ve come to know a number of other women businesses owners in town which is great.”

Case’s day is a full one as she babysits her grandchildren by day and works at Lorenzo’s in the evening.

“It is challenging at times, but my husband and I wouldn’t change a thing,” she said.

Wendy Gaechter owns Eye On Wireless, a Verizon retailer located at 36 Hamburg Avenue, along with her husband.

“I have been in the business for over 30 years, first starting out working for Tel Air and RCC in Sparta where I sold beepers,” she said. “I was affectionately called ‘Beeper Girl.’”

She joined her husband and his brother, who owned Tri County Audio, and were primarily a car and home audio store where she started and ran the beeper end of things for many years.

“We became a Bell Atlantic cellular retailer and now Verizon,” Gaechter said. “My husband and I split off from his brother and formed Eye On Wireless, Inc. around 2013 where we are now exclusively a Verizon store.”

On Main, which opened in 2014, moved from its former location in Sussex to 35 Main Street in November.

“I was just in love with that store front and I’m glad we made the move,” said owner Kathy Esposito who owns the interior decorating/home decor/gift shop with her husband.

Unlike many businesses, COVID was not a “downer” for On Main.

“So many people left their tiny apartments in the city to move out here into larger homes, so business was booming for us helping them decorate and having them in to pick out furniture, etc.,” she said.

She considers herself and other female business owners “like a family,” as they all support one another and even watch each other’s stores and have each other’s keys to help out.

“I’m in love with this town,” Esposito said. “It’s truly a diamond in the rough.”

Esposito said the location is also great because she works in tandem with the antique store next door.

Ann and Kevin Cole are the owners of Nelda & Emylou’s Antiques.

“We’ve had the store for 19 years,” said Ann Cole. “We live here and wanted to own a business in town. We always want to see Sussex be successful and the town really has so much potential with its classic, old-style character. There just aren’t many towns like this left anymore.”

Nicole Halliday owns Main Street Barbers, which she opened on January 1, 2009.

“I had already built an amazing clientele with my seven years at my first barbershop, Good Headz, which was around the corner,” she said. “Coming to Main Street was an upgrade for the shop and myself. I fell in love with the history of the borough and that is what decorated my walls: the old newspapers from Sussex. All the women in this town are fearless and strong and resilient. Through the toughest times, we stick together like a family.”

Halliday’s shop is at 49 Main Street.

Jen Ward-DeGrote opened Shear Intensity in November 2008 at 69 Main Street.

“I had been working for a woman who owned a salon in both Newton and Sussex and since I had really built up a big clientele in Sussex, she asked me if I wanted to purchase that salon,” she said.

She feels the Borough of Sussex has a lot of potential.

“All of the female business owners have their own clientele, and I feel that we really feed well off of one another and support one another,” she said.

These are just a few of the women-owned businesses in Sussex. We reached out to several others, but not everyone wished to respond or be included in this spotlight. In the end, Zydel summed up what Sussex Borough is all about and its numerous female business owners.

“There are a number of female business owners and we’re a minority trying to run our homes and families as well as run a business,” she said. “I think we’re doing a great job.”

“I believe that the camaraderie that we all have formed is respect and support,” said Christine Zydel of Tips & Toes. “We are all trying to do the same thing, which is take care of our families and put food on our tables.”