(AWE)some Women Gather Downtown

By Adrienne Borders

What started as a small group of Downtown women business owners meeting semi-regularly at Soif over the past year has grown into a more formalized group known as the Alliance of Women Entrepreneurs, or AWE, for short. With support from the Downtown community and inspiration from Bookshop Santa Cruz’s Women’s Voices program, AWE rapidly pieced-together a month long campaign featuring images and stories of downtown women entrepreneurs which culminated in a lively launch party at Assembly on Wednesday, July 25th. The nascent organization is centered around amplifying women’s voices in the downtown business community and inviting more people to enjoy what the downtown has to offer.

Four of AWE’s leaders, Anandi Heinrich of Pacific Trading Co., Casey Coonerty-Protti of Bookshop Santa Cruz, Kendra Baker of The Glass Jar, and Patrice Boyle of Soif Restaurant & Wine Bar, sat down for an interview with us to discuss early successes and goals going forward. True to AWE’s focus on collaboration and elevating women’s voices, the interviewees consistently give each other the floor and build off each other’s sentiments.

Your mission statement says that you want to “amplify positive narratives about downtown.” Can you explain what that looks like and why women business owners are the most fitting leaders for this effort?

Casey: I think that when people think of the business community in any context, they think of men. And while that is probably not the business community probably anywhere anymore, it is definitely not in downtown Santa Cruz. So we want to bring attention to the women who are already part of this business community and add a lot to it, not only in terms of commerce but also vitality and community. We’re here everyday, we bring our families, and it’s sad that people don’t realize what is down here. We’d like to shine a light on that in order to bring more people into the fold and make them feel that when they come down here they’re surrounded by women and our positive perspectives.

Patrice: Yes, I think that there is a minor but vocal voice saying that downtown is not safe, not a good place to be. The existence of our businesses and lifestyles are proof positive that that’s not true...We’re just regular people who have families and who have been here for decades and generations and that is what really defines downtown. So I think women are well suited to lead this effort because a lot of women think they are in danger here and they’re not. We often leave my business around 12:30 at night, walking to our cars and we’re fine.

Anandi: I think most of us have a tendency to remember things that are negative or challenging in our lives and it affects how we look at the world. I think particularly right now is very challenging and it’s easy to focus on all the things that are not the way we want them to be. On a day to day level, there are aspects of our downtown community that are hard and there are a lot of people working really hard to make those things better.

But alongside those things, there is a multitude of things that are positive and happening everyday. But I think we don’t notice those as much. We remember the harder stories. So I agree with Patrice, but I also think it’s important to understand that there are times that are uncomfortable for people in downtown. So I think that in saying we want to change the narrative to be positive, we don't intend to ignore the things that need to be made better, just to include the positive and wonderful things we see down here. Patrice and I have often talked about the sense of a neighborhood when we see one another. I love how many women I recognize when I walk down the street, it feels positive and it feels safe.

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Does AWE have other values and goals beyond improving the downtown?

Casey: Collaboration. Creativity. The group of women that has banded together just has so many unique and creative and driven members. I’m inspired to see great things from them, whether its about downtown community or just collaborating on interesting projects.

Kendra: I want our community of Santa Cruz to recognize how great these businesses are and to participate in them because they so easily could go away. And then what would Santa Cruz be? I like living here because of the diversity, drive, and creativity, and the community’s commitment to not just be big box stores and online sales. If we don’t celebrate our local businesses and we turn our backs on them, then they won’t exist.

Anandi: And thinking back on this weekend with the Cabrillo Festival and other events that bring in so many people for the weekend, it can make me think that it’s actually the people who live in the county that are missing out on downtown Santa Cruz. I think a lot of the people who say they don’t come downtown are the same people who would actually love the events and activity down here and would love to bump into their friends like we all do. So we experience the sense of community and we want to grow that further. There is so much energy down here all the time but I think we can expand that exponentially if more of our local community came down.

"In saying we want to change the narrative to be positive, we don't intend to ignore the things that need to be made better, just to include the positive and wonderful things we see down here" — Anandi

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Given that Santa Cruz County is the fourth best place in the nation for women-owned businesses, is there anything that makes Santa Cruz so great for women to start and have businesses here?

Casey: We have a lot of role models. And Santa Cruz is an extremely creative community, and women harbor a lot of that creativity. A lot of women-owned businesses highlight local creativity with open studios and hiring local artists to design and decorate our stores. And I think that creativity leads to business enterprises. The sense of community and sense of ‘little big city’ helps women get their foot in the door in different industries more so than in other communities.

Kendra: I think our city also has solid values with regards to balancing work, life, and family. As a woman, you need that to be able to run a business. When I thought about where I wanted to start my business, I was thinking, ‘where do I want my kids to grow up? What community would respect the fact that I have children and may have to step away from work for a moment?’ I think Santa Cruz respects those values.

Patrice: Santa Cruz is a really outdoorsy place, too; people are physically active and proactive. When I think about the many women I work with, they’re adventurous and athletic and I think that compels them to be fearless in other avenues.

Anandi: I think also that the feminism and alternative lifestyles that came from UCSC in the ‘60s and ‘70s has taken root here. People come here with the intention to make a different life for themselves and to raise their children with fewer gender roles. I think a lot of the focus on organic food, nature, feminism, and the tech spillover from Silicon Valley teamed together to create all this energy and groundwork for female entrepreneurship.

"Our city also has solid values with regards to balancing work, life, and family. As a woman, you need that to be able to run a business." — Kendra


Congratulations on your successful launch party a few weeks back. Can you describe the evening and how it set the tone for your work as an organization?

Patrice: I think it was a great venue and a really wonderful celebration. It was exciting to see all of these people in here just talking...I met a lot of new people. I met some people who I had been doing business with for about 10 years who I had never met face to face. We were always just emailing and scanning stuff back and forth. So that to me was really fun and super positive. I think that the party was a success in simply bringing people together and helping downtown women get to know each other.

Casey: I think it helped that Assembly put it on, which is known for doing lots of community outreach events that bring people together. It was the perfect space because it shared the values of what Assembly’s been about since they’ve opened. And having it decorated with everyone’s faces on posters was a way to recognize people across the room or from our video series online. It really felt like a celebration and like the launch of something that will impact people even though the “how” has not been determined necessarily.

Anandi: Just being able to meet people that you’ve worked near or that are in Santa Cruz with the same intentions as Kendra mentioned in her own thought process earlier. So many of us are so busy that I think it’s easy to feel alone and overwhelmed with the amount of work you’re doing. And that was really neat, just to meet people. One thing in the next couple months that we’ll be working on is creating a place where people can come together, connect in a way that sustains us and feels like self-care. And you know, we can bring that to the scale of the entire community.


How will AWE benefit business owners and non-business owners alike?

Patrice: I think having a vibrant downtown neighborhood benefits everyone who comes into that space. Being a business owner, you’re effectively opening your doors to the community and saying “come in.” And going back to what Kendra said, these businesses are small, unique, and special. When some tourists come here, they’re blown away, people are speechless at times by how nice it is.

Kendra: All of our businesses get tapped for helping non-profits, schools, youth empowerment programs. We’re constantly participating by donating or having events or attending events. So I mean one of the cornerstones of our business is how we can be more connected to our community. In that way the whole community will benefit from AWE’s progress.

Patrice: To build off of that, if I can make sure I hire a diverse group of people, then it’s a more positive work space, but customers also come in see a diverse group of people working together well and being joyful. I think that is really helpful for communities. It makes the base of the business community more open and diverse rather than one group versus the rest of the community.

Here, we are all white women at this table, but that doesn't represent all of AWE and by being as inclusive as possible of other groups or lifestyles lowers discrimination, helps people find common ground and helps them get to know each other. “Just doing business” is a good way to help people cooperate and get exposed to different social groups.

Kendra: I think we are all in the market to hire other strong women so that is definitely another benefit to others.


Are there any kinds of women-owned businesses that you would like to see more of in the downtown?

Casey: I think one of the biggest problems with Santa Cruz is the divide between North County and South County. It really destroys my soul to think about it. There is a huge portion of the Santa Cruz population that is Latina and I don’t think they are represented on this street as much as they should be. So I wish there were more Latina business owners down here.

Anandi: I think more businesses that cater to children. If you bring more families downtown, it will continue to grow the family-friendliness here. What’s been happening at the MAH, for example; they’ve been really great at integrating families. They’ve also been great at speaking up about the North/South County divide. I appreciate what the MAH has been doing and I’d like to see it spill out of Abbott Square and onto Pacific a bit more.

Question: How can Santa Cruz residents support AWE going forward?

Patrice: Come downtown.

Kendra: Yes, that is first and foremost. Take part in downtown, participate in it and build that community.

Anandi: Yes. When you come downtown you bump into people that you know and like.

Casey: And even to spread that message, you know. When people have positive experiences down here they can share that. About a million times we’ve heard people share a reason they don’t want to come down here. But people can also share the good stories; “oh I brought my kids to Abbott Square for this thing, then we went and got ice cream, went to a festival, and then browsed books.” Communicating to others what you do downtown and how it was a great experience would make a world of difference.

While AWE is still developing into a formal organization we are excited to support these efforts and connect with the incredible women entrepreneurs building community in our downtown. And a special thank you to Caitlin Stinneford and Mike Bencze from Design with Hive for designing the beautiful AWE logo.

To learn more about AWE and read the profiles of businesses involved, visit

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