In honor of National Women’s Month, we talked to three female entrepreneurs in different industries about what they do, what it’s like to do what they do and what advice they have for other women looking to start a business on the North Fork.
Here’s what they said:
Tell us a little about yourself and your business.
Melinda Morris: I’m Melinda Morris and I own Arni Paperie. It’s a stationery, custom design, and printing business. We feature lots of gifts, cards, and other paper-related products and represent independent artists — both local and national. We specialize in event printing, specifically wedding invitations, stationary, and party invitations.
Kaitlin Beebe: My name is Kaitlin Beebe and I grew up on the North Fork. I’m an artist and have two different art practices, but the business that I’m most well known for out here is K Beebe Artist, which are illustrations of different local businesses and home commissions. My other business is a fine art practice that explores self portraits and mental health issues.
Kate McDowell: I run a family-owned and operated cheese shop with my son, Devin, and his wife. I am literally the face of Kate’s Cheese Co. We sell cheese, but we’re also like a cafe and have a lot of provisions, sandwiches, soups, and local products that are incorporated into our menu.
What inspired you to start this business?
Melinda Morris: I opened my first retail store in Brooklyn in 2002 and was there for 18 years. When I moved here about three or four years ago I had no intention of opening another shop, but I realized that we didn’t have anything like it here on the North Fork.
Kaitlin Beebe: I kind of just fell into making local drawings when I was uninspired after burning out in college and just looking at what’s around me. I started doing self portraits for my thesis in art school, which explored my insecurities with my body. I had the opportunity to do some art residences that led me in the direction of focusing on my face and thinking about the relationships in my life. Most recently, I went to a residency, where I decided to tackle my experiences with mood and anxiety disorder.
Kate McDowell: When my kids were growing up, they grew up with my photography business — Kate’s One Hour Photo — so we always had a family business. My son always had this dream that we would go into business together, so Kate’s Cheese Co. was born. We opened almost four years ago in the same space as my old business.
What was it like starting a business for the first time?
Melinda Morris: It was a lot. It really took a couple of years to find my footing. When I opened my first business, I opened on a side street instead of the main drag on purpose. I wanted to learn in that smaller space, and then I was able to move to a bigger corner location as I grew the business. It was the best decision I could have made at the time.
Kaitlin Beebe: I didn’t realize I was going to be an entrepreneur. I think that’s something maybe my professors in art school tried to tell me that I just didn’t pick up on. When you’re an artist, you are everything. You’re the creator, the accountant, the secretary, the art handler, shipping department — and it’s overwhelming sometimes. I think the hardest thing I face is being hard on myself. And I think I just need to be more patient with myself and my business.
Kate McDowell: The biggest hurdles are usually the startup. And once you get past that startup, it’s interesting how you just evolve. Everyone had to change because of COVID, but when you’re in business, you’re changing all the time. If you’re going to be successful, you have to listen to what your customers want and mold the business into that in order to be successful.
What is it like to be a female entrepreneur on the North Fork?
Melinda Morris: What I’ve learned in this new business is that the female entrepreneur force out here is strong. It is incredibly supportive and is what encouraged me to do it again. I’ve also recently started a women’s entrepreneurial networking group out here that meets once a month and has been growing fast. It’s really been a fun and exciting new development.
Kaitlin Beebe: I think the beauty of the North Fork is that it’s a smaller community. I think connecting with other women is really important and I’ve gotten so much support.
Kate McDowell: As far as females go on the North Fork, there’s always been a lot of support and encouragement. Even back when I opened Kate’s One Hour Photo, there were a lot of female-owned businesses in town.
What does Women’s History Month mean to you?
Melinda Morris: Women are a part of history always. It’s great to get highlighted, but women’s accomplishments should always be focused on as far as I’m concerned.
Kaitlin Beebe: For a group of people who make up more than half of the population, we are definitely under-celebrated and under-appreciated. I think the month is a really great time to spotlight women. I think overall, in any business, women have so much more potential than they’re given.
Kate McDowell: Oh I absolutely love this month, and we’ve been trying to actually do a lot on social media regarding local, female-owned businesses that we support in our shop. Like Lori from Saporita Sweets — she makes the most amazing carrot cake and she bakes all of our cookies. We also sell soups from Ali Katz in Mattituck. We constantly are researching women-owned businesses to see what products we can bring into the shop.
Who is a female-role model who inspires you?
Melinda Morris: The most direct answer that I can think of is my mother. We had a family business that did stationary and invitations and my father ultimately worked for my mother’s business, so I grew up with my mother as the main breadwinner in my family. There were twists and turns along the way, but ultimately I directly followed in her footsteps and was inspired by the business my mother created to support our family.
Kaitlin Beebe: A local inspiration of mine is the artist Garance. She makes deeply personal paintings about her everyday life and surroundings. I had the privilege of being her studio assistant one summer when I was in college. I think part of my portrait series practice was inspired by her to look inward and free myself. I hope when people look at my work, they experience joy and heartbreak, and see that I really put myself out there, and I think her work does the same.
Kate McDowell: I respect strong women that are passionate about their careers, family and involved in current social issues. Naomi Osaka, Venus and Serina Williams have all used their platforms to raise awareness to social inequality, mental illness, and equal pay for women.
What advice would you give to other women who are looking to build their careers?
Melinda Morris: I think that there are so many creative and talented women that don’t trust themselves and are afraid to take that leap. I truly believe that if you leap, the net will appear. So many people talk themselves out of that. My second piece of advice is to ask for help. Know your strengths, and bring in people because you can’t do everything. You need to prioritize or else you’ll end up burning out.
Kaitlin Beebe: It’s advice that I need to give myself as well; have a multitude of ways to measure success. Success shouldn’t just be about the money you make or the connections you make. For artists, if you’re making art that means something to you, that should be considered success. Also, be prepared to fail. Be prepared to order too many of something, or have one thing that never sells, and learn from it.
Kate McDowell: I would say that if you’re passionate about something, you will succeed at that. I think it’s really important to have that passion, because when you do, it doesn’t become work or a job, it becomes your life. I think that makes a real difference.
What are your future plans for your business?
Melinda Morris: To keep going. It’s new — it’s only two years old so for now, I’m just enjoying this new iteration of the business.
Kaitlin Beebe: For my illustration business, I’ll be doing a book illustration with Wild Sam’s guidebooks. If you’re interested in my portrait series, the best way to see that right now is through Instagram and my website, and hopefully bigger things are coming with that.
Kate McDowell: We’re constantly evolving. Right now, we’re really promoting this fondue feast that we do — it’s a three course meal and it’s by reservation only. It’s super intimate and it’s made with a lot of local farm products that we use — local wines, local beer, etc. Anything that’s out there that’s local that we can incorporate into our menu or sell, we do. We’re really into supporting local businesses.