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Pittsburgh District Office Success Stories

Pittsburgh District Office Success Stories

SBA Assistance Helps her Decorate Region with One-of-a Kind Murals

Beverly Niccolai always strives to make a lasting impression.

As owner of Beyond the Garden Gate, Perry Floral and Gift Ship II, she does just that -- creating live and silk floral arrangements. Her flower power not only beautifies homes, but, her postcard-pretty displays also serve as the backdrop for all-important family celebrations and memorials

While the posies are pretty, it’s Niccolai’s works of art commanding both top dollar and top billing in houses, libraries and churches throughout Western Pennsylvania with a roster of clients including Wynonna Judd and the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort.

“I’ve been drawing since I was four years old,” she said. “I paint about six days a week creating portraits or landscapes from photographs people give me.”

Niccolai has stood on scaffolding painting cherubs and the Virgin Mary on church ceilings and walls. She’s created an Italian bistro scene for a family dining room, vines, buds and a picket fence to adorn a window seat in a home, hand-painted floral backsplashes and a Narnia table and chair set for a local library.

Regina Abel, lead economic development specialist for the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Pittsburgh District Office noticed the extraordinary artwork and is helping Niccolai brush up on her marketing skills.

“We added  ‘Beyond the Garden Gate’, to the name of her store which incorporates the prints of her paintings, her antique furniture that’s also for sale, as well as the numerous available decorative items and consignment pieces,” Abel explained. “I’m also helping her diversify her sales base by helping her market her mural business; those [murals] truly are breathtaking.”

Tasked with helping small businesses start, grow and succeed, the SBA offers counseling, capital access and contracting programs to entrepreneurs. Abel, who has an extensive marketing background, often works in tandem with the agency’s small business development center (SBDC) network. SBDCs and Women’s Business Centers (WBC) are made up of a unique collaboration of the SBA, state and local governments and private sector resources, and provide a vast array of technical assistance to small businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs. The SBDC program remains one of the nation’s largest small business assistance programs.

“Locally, we have eight SBDCs and one WBC,” said SBA Pittsburgh District Director Kelly Hunt. “And the best part is the majority of services are either low-cost or free and counseling is confidential.”

According to Niccolai, Abel took her to different art galleries and she now is commissioned to create two new murals. The murals, which can take a few weeks to paint, net Niccolai a few thousand dollars for her work. But, she maintains it’s not about the money. Instead, she gets her motivation making others happy while working as an artist.

She’s worked as an insurance secretary, cleaned houses and served as a caretaker for a severely autistic woman all for the love of art. Meeting the former owner of Perry Floral and Gift Shop, enabled Niccolai to further hone her skills while learning a different art – floral arrangements.

“Artwork is hard, all has to be right in the world for me to paint good, sometimes I even get the equivalent of ‘writer’s block’,” she explained. “But, flowers are fun and happy and I never knew there were so many varieties until I began working here 15 years ago.”

When the town florist decided to close shop, Niccolai bought it making significant changes.

“It was just flowers and plants, but I painted the walls and brought in my artwork, decorations and consignment pieces,” she explained. “I want to help other artists sell their pieces. I’m all about helping others and making people happy.”

And through art, she has.

She once signed up for a photography course at Touchstone on the Summit where she met a blacksmith. After photographing him she yearned to paint the elderly man; and did.

“I showed the painting at Washington County’s “Art in the Garden Show” hoping to get contacts and commissioned jobs,” she explained. “A woman noticed the man looked like her late grandfather and she paid thousands for the painting.”

While Niccolai is living the American dream of small business ownership as both a florist and artisan -- she helps others attain their goals using her paintbrush and palette; raising money for numerous charities. “When you have a talent, not only are you insecure, but, you also want to help people,” she explained. “I’ve had art shows that raise funds for persons with autism and Lou Gehrig’s Disease, [Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis] as well as those financially less fortunate.”

According to Niccolai, she gets the most unanticipated satisfaction visiting libraries and churches where her artwork is on display. Adults and children, unaware she’s the artist, will come up to her asking “did you see that painting?!”

“People are very appreciative of my work. And, I just use oil paints, so my projects will outlast us all,” she said laughing.