The pandemic was in the back of their minds when Emma Fraser and Devin McFeron, both women in their 20s, decided to buy their own businesses last year. But that fear did not stop them, nor did their age.
“It is a little nerve-wracking. But at the same time, I think it’s so cool that we can really do this no matter our age. We can start a thriving business and be successful at it,” said McFeron, salon owner and stylist at Desert Society in Felida. Fraser owns Farrar’s Bistro next door.
“I think there is a pretty awesome story here with two young women entrepreneurs trying to make a start during a pandemic,” said Leslie Hanson, bookkeeper at Farrar’s Bistro, in an email to The Columbian.
McFeron has been a stylist for seven years and dreamed of owning a salon ever since beauty school. She rented a booth at a salon previously and was seeking a good opportunity to start her own shop. Then the owner of Desert Society approached her last year about buying the salon.
“It was just that perfect opportunity and perfect timing for us — me and my husband. So, I decided to take the jump, and we ended up fully owning it by September,” said McFeron.
McFeron knew how to run a small business after renting a booth for her salon business before. But the challenges came in having to think more broadly about what a brick-and-mortar shop needs. She needed the right kind of licenses and she needed to make sure the salon had things like toilet paper. She no longer could just worry about herself and her salon booth. The difficulties haven’t been overburdening though. McFeron had to hire more staff, and she moved the shop to Felida from Orchards. But the challenges were easily overcome.
“I’ve always wanted to own a salon,” said McFeron. “I almost felt like it would be so far out of reach but then given the opportunity last year, I really was surprised that it could happen so easily for us. It’s been an amazing part of our dream.”
McFeron and her husband have wanted to own their own businesses for some time. She was intimidated to take the leap in her 20s when so many people their age are still figuring out what to do with their lives. But she and her husband didn’t let that hold them back from buying the salon.
“What would happen would happen. If it fell and crashed, that’s just how it’s supposed to happen,” said McFeron. “So far it has not. It’s been very successful. We’ve been blessed through that.”
McFeron’s salon has gotten support from Felida. Many folks have booked appointments at the salon, and McFeron says the place is thriving.
Next door is a Felida mainstay, Farrar’s Bistro. Fraser started working at Farrar’s during her senior year in high school. She worked her way up from hostess to food runner to server to assistant manager to general manager, all by the time she was 21 years old. And now, at the age of 23 — nearly 24 — she bought the business.
“When I was younger, this was not the career that I thought that I wanted,” said Fraser. She spent a year going to school at Clark College while working and determined she needed to figure out what she wanted to do before she returned to college. Her year off turned into never going back.
She decided that her work at Farrar’s was what she loved. “This is what I want to do,” she said.
Fraser had thoughts in the back of her mind that she loved the space at Farrar’s and would love to have it. But she never really thought she’d get it.
“And here we are,” she said.
A native of Felida, Fraser has received a lot of encouragement from community members — frequenting the restaurant, referring accountants, referring different vendors, sending information on grants and small-business loans.
“There’s a lot of entrepreneurs in the area that have done this before and they’ve just been so helpful trying to point me in the right direction or just giving me some advice. And that’s been awesome,” said Fraser.
For Fraser, the biggest difficulties haven’t come from traditional business owner problems; they’ve primarily come from the pandemic. Things like hiring staff and dealing with the ever-changing cost of food and supply chain issues have been her struggles. In fact, Farrar’s is only able to serve dinner because of staffing issues. But Fraser hopes to bring back lunch in the spring.
The pandemic didn’t stop her from buying the restaurant, however.
“I know that the community loves that place and that they will always be there as long as it’s still a great place with good food and great people,” she said. “Seeing at the start of the pandemic, when all the restaurants got shut down, just how supportive the community was was incredible.
“And it kind of put a lot of those doubts in my mind out.”
Fraser doesn’t feel 23, she says. She has friends in their 50s. Her customers call her an old soul and say she’s wise beyond her years. Still, she said she is energized by her age rather than intimidated by it. Her plans for Farrar’s are mostly to keep it the same, but she does hope to update some things and pivot toward the changing neighborhood and make the restaurant more family friendly, while maintaining the bar.
McFeron encourages other young adults to start their own businesses.
“Just listen to your heart and go for it,” she said. “Honestly, in your 20s, a lot of the things you feel like you have to lose, you don’t.
“It’s really hard. Lots of tears and lots of blood and sweat but it’s totally worth it on the other end.”