When Carmelia Ramo walked into Harrisburg’s empty storefront, she knew right away that this was it.
She was looking for a location for her new business, CR Blooms Wellness Boutique + Facial Room, and felt she had found the perfect location. She was excited to bring her business to Harrisburg.
“There aren’t too many self-care and wellness businesses,” Ramo said. “The niche I have, which is holistic facials, there aren’t many around, so I stand out.”
With about 15 years of experience in the skin care industry, Rameau opened her store in June and began attracting customers for her signature natural facials. The Miami native enjoys providing services to her diverse client base and appreciates the community she’s formed in Harrisburg, she said.
CR Blooms is one of about a dozen new minority- and/or women-owned businesses that have recently set up shop in downtown Harrisburg. A variety of new boutiques, restaurants, lounges and even a theater have opened in recent months.
According to Jason Graves, Harrisburg’s director of economic development, the city saw the highest number of business licenses issued in a dozen years — 635. He attributes the trend to an “entrepreneurial bug” that people began to catch during the pandemic, given the extra stay at the home that continues even now.
As more entrepreneurs try it out and plant their business flags downtown, it can often spur others to take a chance, he said.
“It feels like if they can do it, I can do it,” Graves said.
Graves also saw an increase, particularly in women- and minority-owned businesses opening downtown. In fact, there has been a rise in the number of minority business owners across the nation in recent years, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Graves sees this as a great thing for Harrisburg.
“It creates a sense of culture and identity. It creates a sense of ownership,” he said. “If you have a diverse area, it shows the culture and authenticity of the area.”
Taking a chance
On just one downtown street, 3rd Street, at least eight businesses this year have opened new storefronts, occupying retail space in buildings owned by Harristown Enterprises. Just around the corner on Chestnut Street are two more. They are all owned by women and/or minorities.
Up the street from CR Blooms, Harrisburg native Talond Lucette opened Real Elite Buffet in September.
After about 18 years in the restaurant industry, he was ready to come up with his own business idea.
“As I rose through the ranks through my career, I realized I could do something,” Luckett said. “I wanted to do something new and different.
Lucette took the idea of a Brazilian-style steakhouse, serving slow-cooked, marinated meats like steak, chicken, brisket, and fish, along with sides of green beans, mashed potatoes, potato salad, and more.
Everything, he said, was made with love.
“Everybody leaves happy, that’s what I like to see,” he said.
And while he was also looking at locations for his business outside of Harrisburg, he couldn’t help but target a location in his hometown serving the people of his community.
“I love Harrisburg,” Luckett said. “I think downtown is coming back to life. I want to eventually become a major part of the community.”
Ramo feels the same way. When she moved to the city from Miami in search of a slower-paced hometown for her son and herself, she fell in love with the serenity she found in the outdoors — hiking and walking around the Metropolitan Greenbelt. She’s also come to appreciate the community and is happy to see other new businesses taking a chance downtown as well.
“Harrisburg is the capital of Pennsylvania. It should thrive. There should be so many different businesses here,” Ramo said. “I’m thankful that there’s a renaissance happening here and people are taking advantage of the chance to open diverse businesses.”
Tamara Robinson-Grant got the “entrepreneurial bug” a few years ago and started dreaming of one day opening her own store.
She worked as a CNA in a nursing home for 15 years and loved her job, but she also had another passion she wanted to pursue.
In March, Robinson-Grant opened Tamara Boutique, stocking her store with clothing and accessories. Racks and shelves display a wide assortment of bags, dresses, shoes and jewelry.
“I’m a bag lady; I love bags,” she said. “When someone comes in and buys something and smiles, it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve been missing that all along.'”
Robinson-Grant already has regular customers and a few who even come in daily to shop.
Another bright, colorful store awaits you around the corner.
WowDamnFoxy Hair opened in October in a bright pink shop on Chestnut Street. Owner LaToria Byas makes and sells custom and medical wigs in hopes of boosting her clients’ confidence.
“At the end of the day, I love helping people,” she said. “I like to make people happy.”
While Byas previously worked out of Colonial Park Mall, she decided to take a chance on Harrisburg.
“The center is evolving and changing,” she said. “I’m glad to be here. It’s coming and I’m glad to be a part of it.”
Other recently opened minority- and women-owned businesses downtown include Found Collab, Fresca Burger & Chicken Shack, ManeClass Salon, Narcisse Theater Company and Unleashed Grooming Company, among others that also occupy Harristown-owned buildings.
For many of the new downtown business owners, it has been inspiring to see other entrepreneurs who look like them.
As a black woman who has typically been in the minority in her field of natural, holistic skin care, Ramo understands the importance of representation.
“Because this is Harrisburg’s business district, I feel like I play an important role as far as representation goes, as a black female business owner,” she said.
Seeing other women also pursue their dreams and open businesses also inspired Robinson-Grant, and she hopes to do the same for others.
“It’s like if she did this, maybe I can do this,” she said. “It gives you energy.”
Visit New Downtown Businesses
- R. Blooms, 7 N. 3rd St.
- Real Elite Buffet, 15 N. 3rd St.
- Boutique Tamara, 17 S. 3rd st.
- WowDamnFoxy Hair, 308 Chestnut St.
- Found Collab, 25 S. 3rd St.
- Fresca Burger and Chicken Shack, 303 Walnut St. (inside Strawberry Square)
- ManeClass Salon, 5 N. 3rd St.
- Narcisse Theater Company, 312 Chestnut St.
- Unleashed Grooming Company, 3 N. 3rd St.
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