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Over a dozen years ago, Wendy Washeleski gave her coworker’s niece a horse riding lesson at her home. What started out as a hobby is now the 300-acre Fall Brook Stable, a successful small business in Taberg, New York. Washeleski left her position as a psychological assistant and started her business in 1996 with two horses and a small outdoor arena. Today, Fall Brook Stable has 19 horses, four full-time and up to 10 seasonal employees, and offers a one-stop shop for horse enthusiasts from Camden, Rome, Utica, Boonville and Westmoreland.
Washeleski’s business location in her hometown hasn’t reined in her desire to travel; she explained, “It feels good to be in Taberg. The horse industry allows me to travel all over the country for training and shows, but at the end of the day, I have my business and my family all in one spot and that’s all that really matters.”
As she gained loyal clients, Washeleski continued to reinvest in the business with the purchase of an indoor riding arena in 2000. The indoor arena is the complete opposite of the traditional dark barn-the inverted u-shaped building has a translucent roof that allows daylight to flood the arena. Gradually, Washeleski added first and second floor additions to the arena: lockers for clients, an observation room for parents, a full bathroom and more. Growing her business over time was integral to Washeleski’s plan to be completely self-financed: “I wanted to own my business, not have my business own me,” she commented.
Washeleski has expanded Fall Brook Stable’s services beyond traditional riding lessons to include three-day training camps, group trail rides, 40 hour certification clinics for instructors, pony birthday parties, and most recently, a retail tack shop. “Instead of sending my riders to a tack shop for an item they need for an upcoming show, I now offer them exactly what they need right here. The shop is an added benefit for my clientele and my bottom line,” Washeleski said.
In 2008, Washeleski felt she had reached a plateau in running her business and needed a challenge. While searching online, she came across the Women’s Business Center of New York State website and learned about an upcoming free entrepreneurial training course.
“I remember thinking, ‘This is too good to be true,’” recounted Washeleski. “A 10-week course on how to run a business and it’s free?” The Entrepreneurs Skills Training course featured weekly classes on business planning, marketing, media relations, financial planning, legal and insurance issues and more. Washeleski graduated from the course on January 21, 2009 with 16 other Women’s Business Center clients and came away with much more than she anticipated.
“This was my first formal business class ever and it was a phenomenal experience. It heightened my awareness of all aspects of my business. I learned something every week that I can use now or in the future. I especially enjoyed meeting other entrepreneurs and hearing their different input on how to deal with issues.”
For Washeleski, the training course provided practical means to meet the continual challenge of anticipating and meeting her customers’ needs. Fall Brook Stable and its surrounding property is covered in natural beauty, including rolling hills of forest, creeks, and tumbling waterfalls, and during the winter, plenty of snow. The tough winter conditions of Upstate New York inspire Washeleski to dream of opening a second facility in a warmer climate while maintaining the Taberg location. As Washeleski likes to say, “The sky is the limit when you own your own business.”
Stella Penizotto received an Associate’s Degree with Honors from Onondaga Community College in Early Childhood Education in 1990 and her Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education in 1992 from SUNY Oswego. Soon after graduation, Stella realized that teaching jobs were scarce and decided to return to her first passion – working with young children. In July of 1994, Stella opened Shining Stars Daycare, Inc. in East Syracuse, NY. The initial center had a capacity of 32 children and employed four people. Over the course of the next 15 years, Shining Stars expanded to three full-time centers with a combined capacity of 363 children and 78 employees.
The road to such remarkable success was not without obstacles and Stella took each in stride, never giving up until Shining Stars achieved the next level of expansion. Over the past 12 years, Stella and her husband John have worked with the Small Business Development Center at Onondaga Community College. Stella first contacted the SBDC for assistance when running out of room at their current location provided an opportunity to expand. In 2001, Stella purchased a 7,000 square-foot facility in Manlius, NY securing an SBA guaranteed loan from CIT Lending.
In 2006, Stella and her husband secured another SBA guaranteed loan to help finance construction of a second location in East Syracuse, NY. Shining Stars moved the original center into the newly constructed building. Stella designs each center keeping in mind the needs of parents, children and staff. They are bright, cheery and inviting with state-of-the-art amenities like heated floors for crawling young children and indoor gymnasiums specifically designed for certain age groups. Stella’s philosophy is that children need a place where they can flourish socially, emotionally, physically and intellectually in an environment that encourages creativity and individuality.
In December 2008, Shining Stars added a third location in Liverpool, NY supported by another SBA 504 loan. Despite set-backs each time Stella made the decision to build a new center, she preserved against all obstacles, from environmental issues to grant funding suddenly becoming unavailable, to finish the center. Stella always kept a positive attitude until the project was completed. In that same year, Shining Stars was inducted in to the New York State Small Business Hall of Fame. Stella Penizotto was named the New York State Small Business Person of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration in 2010.
The child care industry is notorious for high employee turnover and low wages. Stella recruits and retains superior employees because she is a fair and hard working manager who recognizes her employee’s strengths. She offers competitive wages and benefits that include paying 50% of health insurance for employees who work more than 20 hours per week and paid training for the benefit of their individual careers and the quality of care at the centers.
Shining Stars gives back to the local community throughout the year. Children at all three centers raise proceeds for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital through a Trike-a-thon and older children raise money for the MDA and American Heart Association via a Hop-a-thon. The staff participates in the Breast Cancer walk every October and May and the centers donate to local fire and police departments, schools and other worthy causes. In 2007, they raised and contributed $5,688 and $6,915 in 2008.
As an architect, Anthony Catsimatides spends his days translating residential and commercial client design concepts into reality. As a small business owner, Anthony has been his own toughest customer during the renovation of Open Atelier’s new location in downtown Syracuse. The 6,000 square-foot Warren Street building represents more than just room to grow for Anthony’s architecture firm, Anthony explains, “I’m a big advocate of revitalizing downtown Syracuse, and part of my desire to buy this building is to stake hold and become part of the community.”
With the financial partnership of SBA, M&T Bank and the Greater Syracuse Business Development Corporation through the 504 loan program, Open Atelier acquired the building in 2009 and transitioned from the Cazenovia location in early 2010. To achieve an open, light-filled work space, Anthony supervised deconstruction of the cubicle-creating partition walls, fixed windows and dropped ceilings inherited from the building’s previous owner. The result features new windows on opposing sides of the building that can be opened for natural cross ventilation, skylights for natural lighting as well as an open floor plan emphasizing original architectural features such as pilasters and terrazzo flooring as focal architectural elements.
2009 was a busy year for Open Atelier- in addition to designing the new office space, Anthony’s firm worked with private homeowners, small businesses and completed designs for larger institutions such as Cazenovia College and multimillion dollar facilities for furniture retailer Raymour & Flanigan, headquartered in Liverpool, NY. For Anthony, working on projects is a collaborative creative process: “I tend to be very loose with my employees in a democratic process to allow them to come up with a broad range of ideas. No idea is too crazy, because ultimately we refine it to make it practical. That’s how we come up with very innovative and creative approaches to everything we design, whether it’s a small addition to a house, a multi-family housing project or a commercial building design.”
Open Atelier’s architectural design philosophy is a guiding influence on each project, taking into consideration more than just the building’s purpose, physical measurements and a multitude of constraints that is inherent in almost all projects. “We’re not designing just a building-when you go through the right process and the right approach, a successful building emerges, influenced by the surroundings, technology, aesthetics and the environment around it. The finished product is ultimately a better design when it is informed by the process,” Anthony adds.