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Different passions, same boat

Five women entrepreneurs set up shop in Little Chute’s Main Street Plaza

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December 28, 2022

LITTLE CHUTE – Opening a new business can be an exciting and nerve-wracking experience – full of unknowns.

Having the support of others going through the exact same thing, at the exact same time in the exact place could provide a great support system.

Just ask the five women entrepreneurs in Little Chute who opened their respective stores in the Main Street Plaza within weeks of each other.

Though many of them didn’t know each other before taking the same leap of entrepreneurial faith, the quintet has become each other’s support system as they navigate their first year of small business ownership.

“It is invigorating to see these other women doing something they love and sharing that joy with other people has been amazing,” Rachel Fowler, owner of Rachel Ann Quilts, said. “We’re all pretty much running the business ourselves, and we do lean on each other. (Anything) from sharing ideas to running different aspects of the business side past each other to get another perspective, because what my experiences are, are totally different from what each of the other women’s experiences are, and so we work together in that sense.”

Fowler’s memory quilt business is joined by Megan Beyer’s Creative Simplicity, Leah Islinger Photography, Sue Spierings’ Creative, ID Marketing, LLC and Samantha Schmitz’s Crafters Empire in Little Chute’s Main Street Plaza located at 127 E Main St.

Beyer said each business brings its own niche to the plaza building.

“For me, having the support of other women in business here so close is significant,” she said. “We all are cheering each other on, offering advice or sharing ideas. Collectively, we want everyone to succeed. Networking is at the core of all we do. Each business is special… Together we offer all things creative and fun.”

Creative Simplicity
Beyer said the Creative Simplicity boutique is a place for inspiration.

“My passions are all things home,” she said. “I love decorating and finding unique ways to express a grateful heart, a happy home and hygge – a mood of coziness and comfort.”

Beyer said opening the store has brought a lifelong dream of owning her own store to reality.

“Our goal and vision for the business is to inspire others,” she said. “We want our family-owned business to be a place where networking and friendships go hand-in-hand. The business plan is to be unique, to find joy in everything we do and serve others in love.”

// Beyer, second from right, said opening up the Creative Simplicity boutique has been a dream come true. Submitted Photo

Though Creative Simplicity is Beyer’s first go at owning a boutique, she said it isn’t her first time owning a business.

“My years of experience decorating inspired Plum Crazy Designs, my design and event planning business,” she said. “Throughout the years, I have learned to look outside the box for inspiration… I think this experience has set me up for success in our new brick-and-mortar location.”

Beyer said the store has “an energy, a coziness and a comfort.”

“We have successfully merged some beautiful and creative ideas into a space that brings joy to the community,” she said.

Beyer said the Main Street Plaza is the perfect location for Creative Simplicity.

“The building has a strong history in the Little Chute community and is a staple for Main Street development downtown,” she said.

Beyer said the people of Little Chute and the surrounding areas have been kind, genuine and want their community to be filled with locally owned businesses that build the community up.

“The guests I’ve met want to support the Mom-and-Pop shops,” she said. “They want to shop local.”

Throughout her life, Beyer said she has worn many hats – as a mother, a multitasker, a party planner, a team builder, an event coordinator, a designer and now a boutique owner – all of which have contributed to who she is today.

“My energy abounds and so does my love to encourage others,” she said.

Creative Simplicity is located in Suite 103 and is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.

In addition to its retail items, Beyer said Creative Simplicity also offers classes.

“Creative Simplicity will provide a place for members of the community to relax, express and cultivate their personal inspirations through creative therapy classes and workshops,” she said.

Leah Islinger Photography
Self-taught photographer Leah Islinger said she found herself setting up shop at Little Chute’s Main Street Plaza by “happy accident.”

“I did not purposely plan out exactly where to open my business,” she said. “My goal was to find a space close enough to where I live so it wasn’t a chore to get there.”

Islinger said the space also needed to be large enough to house all her props and equipment that were taking up prime real estate in her house.

“(I also needed) a place that would be easy and convenient for my clients to find me,” she said. “At the time I was looking – in early 2022 – there were not many choices or spaces suitable for what I needed. I happened upon the plaza as a happy accident, actually.”

The hunt for a studio space, Islinger said, marked a shift in her business model.

“Until May 2022, I was solely an on-location photographer, which means I went to my clients’ homes for newborn, maternity or baby/child sessions,” she said. “I also did a lot of family and high school senior (sessions) outdoors.”

When clients are in her studio, photographer Leah Islinger said she wants them to feel special – even the tiniest ones. Submitted Photo

Now that she has her own studio, Islinger said she’s excited to offer her clients a place to come for their sessions.

“Having my newborns in there has been a total game changer for me,” she said. “I know in the past, many/most of my newborn clients enjoyed that I came to their homes because it was convenient for them. And while I also enjoyed it, as the years went on, there were a few things that simply held me back from being able to create the images I truly wanted to create.”

In her Little Chute studio, Islinger said she has 100% control of light, something that was oftentimes tricky to control at a client’s home.

“My images are more consistent now, and I am also no longer restricted in the props and equipment I can use,” she said.
Islinger said the first thing she bought when she opened her studio was a light stand on wheels.

“I love now having full access to my props and supplies while I am working, so I can make changes quickly as needed,” she said. “When I was traveling to my clients, I had to be careful not to overpack, and I also had to be careful not to forget anything.”
Islinger started taking photos as a hobby approximately 17 years ago.

“I always had a camera,” she said. “Since I was a kid, I have always loved taking photos. When my daughter was born, I upgraded to an entry-level professional camera and started playing around with her. I joined a few photography message boards – when message boards were popular 17-plus years ago – and taught myself everything I know, gradually learning more and more.”

Islinger said she did not expect how much she’d enjoy having a dedicated workspace.

“Having all of my equipment and my props, blankets, etc. in this space is time-saving and much more efficient,” she said. “When I was traveling to my clients, it took me 30 minutes to set everything up and another 30 to take it down again and repack it all up in my car. Now when my clients arrive, we can get started right away. It not only saves me time, but it is also saving my clients time as well.”

Having her own studio allows Leah Islinger to have all her props and equipment readily available for all of her shoots. Submitted Photo

When she first moved into the Main Street building, Islinger said she was the only business there.

“I didn’t know who else would be sharing the space,” she said. “The two downstairs businesses were in the works of getting rented, so I only had a little bit of an idea.”

Islinger said as renovations started and she began meeting the other business owners and learning more about what they had planned, she got excited.

“It turned into a building full of fellow creatives, and I love telling my clients about them all,” she said. “I have had a few (people) walk down the hall to get a business card from Rachel and I had a grandma tell me she was coming back next week to go check out Megan’s shop.”

Islinger said it’s nice having other women business owners to bounce things off of.

“I have already had quite a few lovely chats with my neighbors about various business things, and they have given me some great ideas about certain things I was making decisions on,” she said. “All of us have such different businesses, but we all support one another. Having other women rooting for you is what we need more of.”

The Leah Islinger Photography studio is open by appointment only.?

Islinger said potential clients can contact her via the contact form on her website – – or email her directly at

“I try my best to give my clients the best of me,” she said. “When they are in my studio, I want them to feel special. I also love perfecting all the final images before I deliver them – their session doesn’t stop once they leave. I love the editing part just as much as taking the photos.”

Rachel Ann Quilts
Fowler said Rachel Ann Quilts specializes in turning memories and experiences into keepsake quilts.

“I got started (making quilts) about 10 years ago when a teacher at my children’s school where we had moved unexpectedly lost her husband,” she said.

Fowler said she wanted to help but didn’t quite know how.

“Then it hit me – I know how to sew, I wonder if she would want me to take her husband’s clothing and turn it into a special quilt for her,” she said. “I was able to give that back to her and she said she just sobbed because when she wrapped herself up in that quilt, she felt so close to her husband. It helped her through that grieving process. She said when she sees it, it brings joy and a smile to her face because there’s clothing from their first date and all the joyful memories of their family together.”

Fowler said though she thought about making quilts full-time, she wasn’t sure if there was a market for them.

She said she began receiving quilt orders even before she had her pricing structure set, and the far-fetched dream of making memory quilts for a job started to become reality.

Rachel Fowler said her suite in the Little Chute Main Street Plaza building provides her with ample space to construct her memory quilts. Submitted Photo

“I just about fell over,” she said. “I tried doing that and my day job, and finally I talked to my husband. He’s like, ‘You know what, Rachel, you need to go for it.’ And he’s not a man who enjoys change. So, when he says something, you listen and I’m like, ‘Alright, we’ll try this.’”

Fowler said she ran things out of her home for the first year, which was a challenge.

“Every time I had to lay stuff out, I had to move couches and vacuum and make sure everything was clean,” she said. “Then (I had to) lay the quilts down and try and work around the furniture in our home because we didn’t have space to do a nice quilting center.”

Fowler said the first space she looked at inside the plaza building was too small.

“Then we walked into my current space, and I’m like, ‘This is it, this is a space,’” she said. “I have all these gorgeous windows across the front of the building to get that natural light.”

Fowler said after spending 25 years working in an office building without a window – light was important to her.

“Also, having space for a massive cutting table where I can lay things out and a huge flannel design wall to put the pieces up and rearrange and having an office and a storage room – it’s ideal,” she said.

Fowler said getting the space set up for what she needed was a family affair.

“My entire family – my parents, my children, my husband – we all worked together to remodel the space and here we go,” she said. “Here’s our new adventure, and I get to help bring joy and laughter into people’s lives through the quilt.”

Fowler said the plaza building space allows her to walk in and get right to work.

“Everything is set up, so when I walk in, I can make beautiful quilts and be creative,” she said. “It brings me joy to be able to have this space and share quilting with others because we also do classes up here.”

Fowler said embarking on her entrepreneurial journey was never something she saw herself doing.

“If I could sum it up in one word – I’d say it was terrifying,” she said. “I had never owned a business and never even thought that was a possibility. We’re a working middle-class family, and so taking that first leap of faith to step away from 25 years of administrative work to start my own business doing something I loved and enjoyed, but didn’t really know how to make that be a business was terrifying.”

Recognizing she had lots to learn, Fowler said she signed up for an entrepreneur class at Fox Valley Technical College (FVTC) – which she said was a huge confidence boost.

“Going through that process with other new entrepreneurs who are trying to figure things out, you learn from one another, as well as the instructor and the guest speakers,” she said. “There’s so much I didn’t know, and there’s still so much I don’t know, but you learn to cross each bridge as they come and not to try and look too far ahead.”?

Fowler said she’s learned to be wise about her decisions and look toward the future but stop herself from looking too far ahead.

Rachel Fowler said she took an entrepreneur class at Fox Valley Technical College to learn more about being a business owner. Submitted Photo

“Most days, I’m trying to be the CEO, the accountant, the IP and the worker bees – doing all of those things as one person is challenging,” she said. “It’s like you’re juggling – what thing is the most important to catch in that moment without losing sight of all those other balls that are in the air is a big challenge as a new business owner. But I wouldn’t go back for anything to have the opportunity to do what I love.”

Starting this month, Rachel Ann Quilts will have retail hours from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

“If those times don’t work for anyone, they’ll be able to schedule an appointment by either calling me or (I) have an appointment system set up online… where they can make that appointment.”

Fowler said she does have some quilting retail items available for customers to buy.

“For those who want to pop in and grab a spool of thread or a little bit of fabric,” she said. “I’m not a full-fledged quilt shop with thousands of bolts of fabric. I’m more of a design studio, where we also teach classes.”

Crafters Empire
Samantha Schmitz said opening the doors to her store in the Main Street Plaza was a bigger leap than she originally intended to take.

Schmitz said Crafters Empire offers a variety of premier crafting materials targeted more toward individuals who make tumblers, t-shirts, key chains and resin crafts.

“We carry a vast variety of vinyl, glitter, epoxy, alcohol inks, beads and many more supplies to complete your projects – start to finish,” she said. “I opened the storefront (because) many of my suppliers required a retail space before (I could start) to sell their merchandise.”

Schmitz said as a crafter herself, she knew firsthand what others like her went through when trying to find supplies.
“That is what led me to open this business,” she said. “I was frustrated with the lack of quality supplies I could buy in our area – everything had to be bought/shipped online.”

Owner Samantha Schmitz said her hope for Crafters Empire is to become a successful and respectful part of the Little Chute community. Submitted Photo

Schmitz said she wanted to be able to walk into a store and physically see the products and talk to a real person about the products.

“This is why I created the business,” she said. “I am making this possible for all the other crafters who are in my shoes.
Though a crafter of goods, Schmitz said this is her first go as a business owner.

“So far, one of the biggest struggles I face is having suppliers/contractors taking me seriously as a younger, single mom trying to start a business,” she said. “Many have looked at me with smirks thinking it’s a hobby or making me second guess my decisions as if I don’t have the knowledge or ability to make the correct decision.”

Schmitz said opening Crafters Empire wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision.

“I have worked my tail off to educate myself, build a network and have funding – banks wouldn’t touch a ‘hobby,’” she said. “I am learning quickly how to balance work/home life.”

Schmitz said being in a building filled with other women-owned businesses is a “blessing.”

“It has made a huge impact on me in the sense of being relatable,” she said. “We have all encountered some of the same struggles, creating the work/family life balance, sharing knowledge and being there for encouragement and support. It’s almost like we have created a mini tribe amongst ourselves.”

Growing up just across the bridge in Kimberly, Schmitz said she’s always appreciated the small-town atmosphere, community and support the Heart of the Valley area provides.

“After meeting with the owner of Main Street Plaza and hearing about the other women-owned businesses in the building, it seemed like a good fit,” she said.

Schmitz said her hope for Crafters Empire is to be a successful and respectful part of the community.

“I want my customers to entrust and rely on the products/services/knowledge I can provide,” she said. “I want to grow a supportive and encouraging crafting community. Lastly, I want my daughter to see you can do what you love in life, and it’s all possible with hard work and dedication.”

Crafters Empire is located in Suite 205, on the second floor of the Main Street Plaza building.

“The parking lot is in the back of the building with an entrance closest to our store,” she said. “We also have a website in the making where you can purchase online or browse products available in-store. Looking forward, there may be informational classes on how to use the cricut/heat press or make-and-take type classes.”

ID Marketing, LLC
Sue Spierings – owner of ID Marketing (IDM) – said she started with business in 2017 as an independent consultant.

“The first year was getting to know business,” she said. “The second year, I hired my first employee – Jen Verstegen. The third year COVID-19 hit. We needed to make some adjustments but got through.”

Last year, Spierings said she hired a second employee – her daughter Margie Nelson – to help with some back-end support to keep orders flowing and on time.

“This past year, after five years (without a physical location) we now have an office space,” she said. “(It) is a place where we can work together, encourage one another and have space to organize projects. It’s been a joy seeing our business grow and seeing the girls grow and learn this business. They will make it easy for me to transition into retirement in a few years.”

Spierings said IDM provides promotional products and marketing strategies for its clients and is affiliated with iPROMOTEu, an international organization of promotional distributors. 

“This affiliation allows us to maximize back-end support and obtain incredible buying power, which translates directly into excellent pricing for clients,” she said. “Plus, it allows us the time to concentrate on our creativity to promote our customers. We thrive on our customer service, attention to detail and willingness to help others grow their business.”

IDM, Spierings said, isn’t her only first go as a business owner.

“(I owned) a men’s clothing store,” she said. “(It) was a retail store located right across the street from my current business. This was back in the mid-’80s.”

// years after Sue Spierings, center, started ID Marketing, LLC, she opened her first physical office space in the Main Street Plaza in Little Chute. Submitted Photo

Spierings said the difference with IDM is that she does not need to count on retail sales.

“Everything we do at IDM is a custom order from the customer,” she said. “We help them build their business or organization by selling apparel and specialty items.”

Spierings said another positive of IDM is she doesn’t have many overhead needs.

“I was able to start slow and grow gradually,” she said. “Everything we do is ordered for the customer per their request.”

Growing up in Little Chute, Spierings said she is proud to own a downtown business.

“It was the perfect location since we work with so many local businesses, schools and nonprofits in the area,” she said. “It is so fun having people stop in to say hi and wish us the best. Everyone is excited to see our town thrive again with all the new businesses.”

Spierings said IDM’s office is visible to Main Street, but it doesn’t necessarily have a storefront where customers can come into shop.

“We like to get out and visit our customers,” she said. “We invite customers to come in, but this is basically by appointment only.”

Each business within the plaza building, Spierings said, is uniquely different in its own way.

“It has been a blessing getting to know the other women and seeing their business grow successfully,” she said. “We count on each other for support – whether it’s business support or emotional support – we work together on marketing ideas. We watch out for each other and respect each other’s needs. We have become good colleagues and friends.”

Fitting right in
One thing all five owners agreed on was the support they have received from the Little Chute community has been great.

“Everyone is excited to see our town thrive again with all the new businesses,” Spierings said.

Fowler said she’s proud to be able to bring new life to downtown Little Chute.

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