Women-owned businesses face challenges but support is available

A passion for baking bread consumed Amy Scherber's dreams until she decided to open up her very own bakery 29 years ago this month. The bread is made at a commercial bakery in Long Island City in Queens and sold at locations like Amy's Bread in Hell's Kitchen. When she first started out very few women-owned businesses in New York City. 

"In the beginning, when I first started, all the things, how you run a bakery, everything, was made for men," Scherber said. "It was all very large-scale — the equipment, the bags of flour were 100-pound bags, and all these things weren't scaled for women-run business and all my staff was all women so I worked to find different vendors that would have smaller things."

She has had to close some locations and lay off workers during this pandemic but she's been able to survive because she stuck to a basic business model. 

"Staying small as long as you can is a good idea because you have less risk," Scherber said. "You never really know what's going to happen — COVID, 9/11."

Melba Wilson opened Melba's in Harlem in 2005 specializing in comfort food.

"As a woman in a predominantly male-dominated industry, which is the food and beverage industry, oh my god, the challenges that I have faced have been unimaginable," Wilson said.

Her advice for women starting out? Listen to experienced mentors. 

"The path that we are just walking through and being guided through — they have already traveled," Wilson said. "Let's not forget to reach out to our elders, sisters, our queens. The only crazy question is the one that's not asked."

Beth Goldberg, the district director of the New York office of the U.S. Small Business Association, said access to capital and credit has always been very difficult for women. 

"Before H.R. 5050 in 1988, women could not ascertain a loan on her own," she said.

But coaching and free help are out there for women. Goldberg urges them to ask for it. One of those places is the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.

"It's different starting a business as a woman — it's more of an uphill battle," Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President Samara Karasyk said. "Now's a great time for women to tap into the movement. Lean into willingness people have right now to invest in women and minority-owned businesses." 

She is eager to create more women bosses; women like Amy and Melba, who are resilient and resourceful and have an appetite for success.

Amy looks forward to reopening kiosks and other commercial locations that had to close during the pandemic.

Melba is planning to open another restaurant in Harlem, which will be run by women.