Montpelier’s BIPOC female-led small businesses

Mar 29 2024


BIPOC Small Business Women Women's History Month Buy local Montpelier business


There is so much that can be highlighted about Montpelier’s female community leaders and small business owners that one can create a whole series on the topic (and we just may do so!). 


By providing opportunities for wealth creation and economic advancement in minority communities, BIPOC businesses play a critical role in bridging the economic divide which in the long-term, contributes to a more equitable and just society. There are a plethora of amazing female-owned or led businesses in Montpelier to choose from, but to wrap up this Woman’s History Month, we are proud to feature a few of the BIPOC women behind downtown Montpelier’s small businesses - their stories, hopes, and philosophies:


Makiko Damon - Breathing. Grounded. Bodywork.


Makiko is from Saga Prefecture, Japan - located on the island of Kyushu which is the southernmost and third largest of the four main islands of Japan. Kyushu is bordered by the East China Sea to the west and the Pacific Ocean to the east. 


In 2001, after finishing college, Makiko’s curiosity about foreign countries led her to New York City for dance training: she particularly enjoys afro-latin dance. Makiko recalls that in Japan, it’s common for family-members to give each other massages and she distinctly remembers her great-grandmother giving her back rubs when she was little. While in NYC, Makiko worked as a waitress and transferred this experience into giving shoulder massages to her coworkers. It was during this time that Makiko received numerous suggestions that she should pursue a career in bodywork. As a result, she attended the Swedish Institute, which is the oldest massage school in Manhattan, earning her a New York state massage license in 2005. In 2011, Makiko moved to Central Vermont with her two daughters as she had familial ties to the area.


Makiko’s current healing philosophy is a result of her falling ill and experiencing lung failure towards the end of 2015. Her recovery after six months in the hospital was miraculous and Makiko engaged more deeply with the power of breath. Makiko’s strong connection to dolphins inspired her to meditate on their healing properties - being that dolphins are mammals that dive and conserve breath under water. The power of breath also became apparent to Makiko once more during the stress of the Covid-19 virus pandemic - she went on to train as a breathing and flexibility coach through YogaBody which she now integrates into her bodywork as well. 


Makiko states, “I like having a small business in Montpelier a lot. People here respect the local small businesses like mine and the community's connection is strong so business can easily grow by word of mouth.”


As a business owner and community-member, Makiko is inspired to live in alignment through thoughts and actions that create a ripple effect in the community. Through her bodywork and healing, she aims to create a happier community everyday.


Zutano Outlet Store - Sylvia Thompson


Sylvia was born in South Korea, was adopted, and lived in California as well as Minnesota before moving to the green mountain state in 2000 to join family members who moved to the area for employment, its unparalleled beauty, and welcoming community. Sylvia began working at Zutano’s in 2003 and became store manager in 2006. In 2019, she jumped on the opportunity to purchase the Zutano Outlet Store and finally realize her dream of becoming a small business owner. 


Sylvia feels that Montpelier is a special place as a small town with a big heart. 


She states: “It has a strong community spirit with great business colleagues. During and after the flood, it was even more apparent how supportive and wonderful Montpelier is. I can't imagine a better community for my store. Montpelier Alive has been very helpful, guiding us and navigating the way during uncertain times, like the Covid pandemic and the flood. Montpelier is also a great place to raise a family.”


Just four months after taking ownership of Zutano’s, covid hit which created the obstacle of her having to close down Zutano’s for three months. In 2023, the devastating floods in Central Vermont also forced Sylvia to close up shop for almost three months, but with the help of her loyal customers, family, friends, Montpelier Alive, other business owners, and grants, Zutano’s was able to reopen and continue. She states, “It’s still a work in progress!”


Sylvia’s advice for other aspiring entrepreneurs is certainly in congruence with  observations made regarding the collaborative business landscape of Montpelier: “Don't be afraid to ask for help and ask questions. I found it very helpful to ask other business owners for advice - what has worked for them, or what they might do differently next time. We can all learn from each other!”


It’s inspiring to see these women and other BIPOC female business owners, such as LyLy Nails and Lotus Day Spa, among others, empowered in taking the opportunity to open a small business - adding to Montpelier’s collaborative atmosphere and showing that there truly is strength in diversity. 


Next time you’re in town, show these ladies (and all local BIPOC businesses) some extra love! 


By: Sheena Khan, Montpelier Alive Marketing & Communications

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