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Westboro Village: A community where women-owned businesses thrive

It’s about making connections, fostering community and giving back

Jacqui Okum, Judy Lincoln, and Kate Laird of the Westboro Village BIA walk down the street
Jacqui Okum, owner of the Strawberry Blonde Bakery; Judy Lincoln, executive director of the Westboro Village BIA; and Kate Laird, owner of Love Your Body Fitness

It takes one to know one, as the saying goes.

In Westboro Village, we’re talking about the women business owners who know exactly what their counterparts need to succeed: each other. 

And, based on the number of women-run businesses in the area, it seems to be working.

“We have double the percentage of women-owned or led businesses in our community compared to the rest of Canada,” said Judy Lincoln, executive director of the Westboro Village Business Improvement Area. “Our most recent member census tells us that nearly 40 per cent of our businesses have women in leadership roles. It’s something we’re very proud of.”

Why Westboro Village?

Westboro is home to a diverse mix of businesses that give the community a unique character – something that residents love, and which attracts many entrepreneurs to the area, says Lincoln.

“People here get excited when a new business opens, celebrates an anniversary, or when Jacqui launches a new cupcake,” joked Lincoln. 

She’s referring to Jacqui Okum, owner of Strawberry Blonde Bakery, which moved to Westboro four and a half years ago.

“What attracted me to Westboro in particular is how much the residents love supporting locals,” said Okum, who despite living out of town, chose to set up shop on Richmond Road. “I wanted to be part of that community.” 

Westboro Village BIA members

Kate Laird had a similar sentiment when she opened her personal training and fitness studio Love Your Body Fitness just up the road in 2021.

Like Okum, she saw the area as the place to take her business to the next level. “After years of serving my clients in their homes, I wanted to create a great gym for women that was also a great place for women to work,” said Laird, who grew up in the community.

Lincoln says the successes of women like Okum and Laird — who also sit on the BIA’s board of management — makes it easier for others to take the leap.

As business owners themselves, the two agree that learning from fellow entrepreneurs and mentors in the community has been an essential part of their success.

“Whether you run a franchise, bought an existing successful business, or built one from the ground up like Kate and Jacqui, it helps to see the examples of the women who went first,” said Lincoln.

Building community through connection

While the character of the neighbourhood attracts newcomers, the Westboro Village BIA believes an important part of its role is helping foster a community feeling amongst small businesses, and recognizing the women who took the risk at entrepreneurship is part of that.

Although being your own boss has its perks, business owners often work in isolation. Women business owners, especially, face similar challenges to one another, added Lincoln, but may not know where to go to ask for help.

By celebrating local women in business — and by bringing men and women together — at events like the BIAs annual International Women’s Week panel discussion, it allows community members to share their experiences and challenges and connect on common ground, said Lincoln. 

Sparking connections that live on beyond a single event helps foster that community and create more networks of peer support.  

Laird, for example, now runs a small group for local women business owners in the health and wellness industry who have lunch every month or two to support each other. 

It’s also not uncommon for community members to share business tips and tricks amongst themselves, often connecting through the BIAs weekly newsletter, an e-blast chock full of helpful information, ranging from government grants, to call outs for business advice. 

“Our businesses give back in so many amazing ways,” said Lincoln. “Both to the broader community and to one another.” 

Both Okum and Laird concur. 

“People want to show up for you when you’ve shown up for them,” said Laird. “It’s the beauty of working in Westboro.”