Daring Dames: Fabulous Women-Owned Businesses in Chicago

Photo Credit: Bogart Handsome Devil
This is the first in a series of, what I hope, are inspiring and insightful articles, detailing women-owned businesses in Chicago. A few years ago, I was speaking with a friend of mine about supporting our local neighborhood businesses, and we realized how many of them had crazy-awesome ladies at the helm. As with any feminist or “women-focused” work, the same questions inevitably arise: “Why are you privileging women? Don’t you want equality? Is highlighting or paying special attention to women really a means to getting there?” In short, yes. Of course it is. In a world where women still make significantly less than men, and where women are thrust into traditionally feminine work (which often is some of the hardest, most underpaid, and underappreciated work), spreading the word and garnering support for professional women is immensely important. And, as I hope you will come to agree, women come up with some pretty awesome ways to make money and contribute to their communities. So, check out these awesome Chicago women and their local businesses.

Beth Cisco, Tattoo ArtistUptown Tattoo Factory
Location: 4441 N. Broadway, Uptown
Website: viciousvelvets.com

“I was good at two things growing up: drawing and getting into trouble,” says Beth. She’s wielding a needle, tipped with a wet bubble of black ink, poised to begin an arm piece on a returning client. Her black Converse lo-top hits the floor pedal, and the buzzing commences.

Beth has been in the business for 11 years. Yet, even now, she says, being a female tattoo artist is a constant challenge. “A lot of times when I walk up to the counter, talking to a guy about his tattoo, he’ll eventually ask, ‘So where’s my guy? Who’s doing my tattoo? And I have to say, ‘I am the guy, dude!” Beth says many times she feels she must prove herself, being asked to show her portfolio a lot more often than male artists at the shop. “I guess they wanna make sure I can draw things other than flowers and pretty stuff,” she suspects.

Beth has inked me three times. My own tattoos have personal stories behind them, which leads me to one of the things I adore about this lady: her client relationships are just as important as the artwork. Of this she says, “When you tattoo someone several times, that’s a lot of hours I spend with you. I know about your kids, your family, your job.” I asked Beth about what I called the “Kat Von Dee” effect. She said shows like Miami Ink and LA Ink have helped make tattoos more socially acceptable, especially for women. But, she has a philosophical problem with these shows. She says the celebrities coming to get inked on air are making tattooing something for wealthy people, all custom work and high profile. “I like tattooing working-class people,” says Beth. “Those are my people. I know it’s important to my clients. Who knows how long they had to save up to get this done? It means a lot to me. I’m working in a street shop, not doing all custom pieces, but I’m not “paying my dues;” I’m paying by bills! I like doing this.”

Whether sitting down with Beth for your first tattoo or your sixth, for a small ankle piece or a full sleeve, she won’t make you feel like an outsider of some exclusive club of “real” tattoo connoisseurs, like so many tattoo shops.

Gina Aulisio, Store OwnerThree Dog Bakery
Location: 2622 N. Halsted St., Lincoln Park
Website: threedogbakerychicago.com

“Is this all for dogs?” That has to be the most common question asked inside Three Dog Bakery. And how couldn’t you wonder, as your eyes scan the bake cases, your vision tripping over the neat rows of freshly baked dog treats? The frosting, the designs — it’s all for your pooch, but it packs a mouth-watering punch for humans, too.

Three Dog Bakery is a franchise, but local owner Gina Aulisio is quick to point out the neighborhood attachments. From selling Chicago team collars, bandanas, and toys to hosting dog-and-owner events in the neighborhood and adoption events in her store, Gina has made this your typical local bakery — for your four-legged friend.

All of the ingredients are natural, and while the treats might have you drooling more than your dog, Gina says they’re very bland for humans. She doesn’t use sugar, corn syrup, or anything else our human pallets are accustomed to. For flavor, she adds unsweetened apple sauce, vanilla, and carob, a chocolate substitute safe for dogs that a lot of vegans and lactose-intolerant people enjoy as well.
The shop smells amazing, especially if you’re lucky enough to stop in on a baking day. If it’s your furry friend’s birthday, special order a birthday cake, complete with a birthday message written on top. Flavor choices like peanut butter, carrot, or vanilla accompanied by color and candle choices are sure to make your real kids jealous.

Of course, dogs are allowed in the store. And while Gina and the friendly sales staff will spoil your dog with samples, support them by buying some treats for home. Or, perhaps you need custom hand-painted food and water bowls. Maybe a t-shirt for your dog that says, “My Mom is Single.” What about shampoo or dental care for your dog? Gina’s got you. She’s also got TONS of information about her products, confidently sharing the benefits of certain all-natural ingredients for dogs, as well as sharing a funny anecdote or two about one of her five dogs.

As the owner of a pit bull terrier/black lab mix, I have to say one of the things I most appreciate about Gina is her attention to big dogs. So often, fun doggie stores in the city cater to tiny stick-em-in-your-purse-like-Paris-Hilton dogs. Fine. Sure. I guess I’ll consider those canines of some sort, but my dog is my wrestling buddy, body pillow, and dance partner. From appropriately large rawhides to collars and winter sweaters, Gina understands the needs of every dog owner. Stop in and say hello to Gina and her dogs (who must be the luckiest critters on earth, I’ve decided) and support a woman who adds flair and variety to the Lincoln Park business community, and who would do, and has done, just about everything to support dogs.

Searah Dysach, Store Owner and Sex EducatorEarly to Bed
Location: 5232 N. Sheridan Road, Edgewater
Website: early2bed.com

Nestled on the same block as a Chase bank and a health food store, you could almost miss this unassuming, adorable storefront. But pause, enter, and you’ll understand. “Early to Bed?” you might ask, “What the — ooh. I get it.”

Early to Bed is an adult toy store, and its niche is one to be greatly appreciated. Instead of the seedy, gnarly storefronts that might come to mind when entertaining the idea of buying a gift for your favorite bachelorette, E2B is painted purple, is warm and inviting, and there is music playing, at a appropriate level, and none of the beats induce stripper pole action. Owner Searah Dysach seems to realize that sex is normal. Why shouldn’t adult stores be normal too?

Searah is not just a shop keeper, or a purveyor of “adult” items, but a sex educator. She told me that she spends most of her time answering questions that remind her how deplorable sex education is in our schools. Searah helps people who have never enjoyed sex learn what they were too shy to ask their mamas. She is careful to stock items that are woman-friendly, LGBTQ-friendly, and sex-positive. There is no way you can leave E2B feeling scuzzy, like a piece of meat, or degraded. From the atmosphere to the reading nook that encourages you to sit and stay a while, learning about your body and the amazing things of which it is capable, Searah has created a haven from the easily-accessible yet just as easily vomit-inducing internet world.

Yet, to compete with the ever-growing online market, Searah has expanded to the web (early2bed.com). The site is for online shopping, but also hosts a bevy of instructional and informational posts. It is obvious upon entering the site and the store that this is more than a business venture, but something much closer to activism.

Be sure to check out a calendar of classes online or in the store to help rev up your love life. Grab a coffee on your way in and feel free to sit with a book from their vast collection or strike up a chat with Searah or one of the other approachable and knowledgeable employees.

**All three business are wheelchair accessible

Mary-Margaret McSweene

About Mary-Margaret McSweene

Mary-Margaret McSweene makes her home in the Edgewater neighborhood of Chicago with the love of her life, a pit bull/black lab mix, named Jake. Buying old things that no longer function but offer extreme aesthetic pleasure is her vice; typewriters and rotary phones are favorites. Mary-Margaret also believes that anything in life can be articulated by a Tom Petty song.

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