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Two island businesswomen share their stories of success

August 7, 2019
By JORDAN HESTER ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Fort Myers Beach has lots of businesses and just as many varieties. And in keeping with a national trend, more women are doing very well, showing both a lot of giving back and entrepreneurship.

More than 11.6 million firms are owned by women, employing nearly 9 million people, and generating $1.7 trillion in sales as of 2017, according to the National Association of Women Business Owners. A recent American Express study says that Florida specifically has the fastest growing number of businesses run by women.

It's tough, running someone else's business, much less your own. So what does it take to do it well?

Two well-known names on the Beach - Heather Reagan of Mom's and Mayor Anita Cereceda - recently sat down to give some of their thoughts about this community and how it's treated them and how they expect to give back.

What was the biggest obstacle when starting? Budgeting, location, advertising?

Heather Reagan: Budgeting was such a huge pain, you never knew how much you needed until well after you needed it. Being new in town was a little different too, but people I barely knew supported me, so I'm loving doing well just to give back to them. It means so much to see the same person more than once, much less the immense amount of love you get.

Anita Cereceda: I think if anyone was honest the biggest obstacle for anyone doing anything his fear. Fear that you won't have the money that you don't know what you're doing that, you'll fail.

When I took over my parents' business, the Pier Peddler, there wasn't any financial risk but there was huge pressure to succeed because my parents and my family depended on it. Fortunately, I had lots of help from friends and business associates who had been in the retail business a lot longer than I had. That expression you get by with a little help from your friends has always been very true for me.

In 2003 when I opened Local Color I borrowed a $100,000 on the handshake from friend. No paperwork, no percentage rates, just a handshake. There was huge pressure to perform again because I didn't want to disappoint him and I felt like I have an idea that would really work for Fort Myers Beach. That was Local Color.

For both those stores advertising was a non-issue because of my location. Both shops are located in Times Square, and I was almost guaranteed a steady through way of customers. I just had to figure out what they wanted. In the case of Local Color, probably the thing that helped me the most was my brother Charlie and sister Laida who were willing to help me build out the store and our belief that there just wasn't anything we couldn't do. I think about it now and I'm honestly quite amazed that we got it done.

How long did it take you to feel like "you've made it?" Was the Beach community a help or a struggle?

Heather Reagan: I think it took my whole 20 years to feel like I'm one of the locals out here. But I never paid it any real mind, I just set out to give the best food I can possibly give. I got scammed out of some revenue when I first got down here and a friend of mine loaned me a sizeable sum on a handshake and I will never forget that kindness. Even after paying it back, it's something that helped me make this as successful as possible and that kind of selflessness is something I'll cherish forever.

Anita Cereceda: I honestly don't think I have ever had the feeling of "making it." There have been moments that have been financially comfortable where I felt like, wow, I can actually do what I want without worrying too much about it, but there's always a little voice in the back of my head that says "hurricane season is coming, say a prayer." When Hurricane Charley hit the island, it was a disaster. Both of my existing stores at the time, the Pier Peddler and Local Color, survived but were drowning in 4 feet of water and I was in Spain with my family. We arrived back the day that everyone was let back on the island and much to my surprise, my friends had opened the doors, swished out the mud, rinsed down the floors, and cleaned it up. I don't know if I've ever felt such an enormous sense of gratitude. It gave me the chance to help others because they had helped me.

Everyone banded together. To say that this community has supported me over the years would be an understatement. It's been everything to me.

What's the thing you've enjoyed the most about being in this community?

Heather Reagan: The love this place will show you if you just show them a little. People come in all year for 'Mom Time', so I try to listen and laugh and be a shoulder to everyone I can. You never know peoples' struggles and sometimes people just need a hug and a great biscuit. I think the thing I love the most is that people come to me for their birthdays. They could go anywhere but they come by to share it with me, and I think that is the most amazing thing. Sometimes they even ask for me to bake something nice for them and it makes me so proud to be a part of what we have going on down here.

Anita Cereceda: I love the fact that if someone hears you're sick, the next thing you know four people are bringing soup. I love the small townness of the island. The business community, whether owned and operated by women or men, is very close knit. There are three of us in Times Square that inherited the businesses of our fathers and continue them today. We're as close as brother and sisters. The other thing that islanders who don't own businesses here don't necessarily know is that our customers become extended family. We see them every year the second week of February or the month of March or for Christmas. They return year after year and then their children return and their children's children come. It's extraordinary. I don't know any other place like it and even if there was one, I'd stay right here.



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