Starting small is just the beginning

With the resale market continuing to grow (this sector’s sales are expected to exceed $22 million in 2020), savvy fashionista entrepreneurs are looking at consignment retail with fresh eyes.

That’s what motivated Alysia Welch-Chester to open the Urban Soul Closet as one of this season’s Queen City Pop Up shops in Buffalo’s historic Market Arcade building.

Now through the end of December, Welch-Chester is one of four retailers enjoying a month of free rent in a prestigious Main Street address as part of the Queen City Pop Up program. The opportunity to be part of this program was another motivator for Welch-Chester.

“I was dabbling in e-commerce and was thinking of stepping up my game when I saw the RFP (request for proposal) for this program,” she said.

For this Buffalo native, who spent 15 years living in the tri-state area before moving home in 2015, the chance to have a storefront during the holiday season is full of potential. She said, “I was familiar with the (Queen City Pop Up) concept from seeing it last year. I met some of the alumni of the program, too. It’s a cool concept, and I like to see new things in my city. It’s a good opportunity without a huge amount of risk.”

Urban Soul Closet features a carefully curated array of items, including gifts and consignment jewelry, clothing, bags for women, plus a smaller selection of men’s and children’s clothing. “This is a fun twist on retail sales,” she said.

Welch-Chester’s career pathway--so far--touched every business sector. “I’ve worked corporate jobs and for not-for-profits,” she said. “I’ve worked for a chamber of commerce, and human service agencies, and for advocacy groups.” But after moving from Buffalo and back home again, Welch-Chester is finding new vitality in her home town and in her own career aspirations. After so many years away, she loved what was happening in Buffalo. The region evolved during her absence, with a whole new mood and vibe. What she missed was the social opportunities of the more populated areas downstate.

“When I moved back, I was in a different point in my life,” she said. “I was a recently divorced 40-something.” She began working on another business called Soul Connective, a personalized dating service for busy people who are looking to meet others like themselves. “Some people struggle with networking and need help learning how to meet each other and how to follow up. Like a business meeting, but with a different purpose. I’m good with helping people connect with each other,” she said.

Welch-Chester is an enthusiastic entrepreneur. “I’ve had the bug for several years,” she said, but also knows that this isn’t for everyone. To be successful takes funding, marketing, and convincing others to believe in your dream. While the conventional career option is a 9-to-5 job with benefits, being an entrepreneur isn’t that predictable. Or safe.

She sees the challenges and, while she is excited to be part of this shift back to small business, she knows that some prospective entrepreneurs are turned off by the risk. “This isn’t very easy or glamorous, and not everyone is going to get super rich like (Facebook founder) Mark Zuckerberg. Your venture may not work out. Not everyone will be a millionaire, or even a thousand-aire,” she said.

She thinks the time is right for small business owners to pursue their passions and follow their dreams, and Buffalo is the right place. “There’s a change in the culture and a lot to offer to entrepreneurs,” she said. Despite this, she thinks there is still room in Buffalo for more women--particularly women of color --to be active in the business community and pursue their own business. The first step is to be engaged with the community and build your network.

“Sometimes I’m the only person of color or woman of color at a community event,” Welch-Chester said. She is adamant that being part of the community sends a strong message. “You have to let people know that you’re there. You have to show up and be welcomed.”

“Being an entrepreneur is sexy now,” she said, “And society has conditioned us to be safe. There’s a saying I saw online: ‘Your salary is the bribe that they pay you to forget your dreams.’”

For astute and passionate entrepreneurs like Alysia Welch-Chester, her dreams are just beginning.

Read more articles by Cherie Messore.

Cherie Messore is a native Buffalonian and has longtime experience in the region's vibrant not-for-profit sector with special interests in the cultural community and education. She is also a freelance writer, public relations practitioner, and volunteer docent at Frank Lloyd Wright's Darwin Martin House.
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