Four Women-Owned Small Businesses Propelling Our Community Forward
The transformative newness of Cape May’s female presence is paving paths of value and practice through all sorts of channels. There are many fascinating women who are influencing our community. I was honored to get together with a few of them: female business owners on the forefront of this evolution who offer various services ranging from movement, nourishment, art, and community engagement.
I first met with Lia Antonicello of Cape May Yoga and got a glimpse into her journey of healing and movement. Next, I met the sister in-law/best friend duo that run Ostara’s Cafe, Victoria Maniotis and Anastasia Maniotis. I then reunited with my previous employers, sisters Trish McMonagle and Diane Carrick of the wellness-centric Green Street Market. Lastly, I paid a visit to Perigee Moon Tattoo and spoke with owner Kirsten Ewing and her artistic sisterhood.
Cape May Yoga: A Mindful Movement
“We don’t need to always work so hard; we need to take care of ourselves” – Lia Antonicello
The western world’s interest in yoga practice has spiked over recent years, along with the assimilation of eastern beliefs. A foundational truth of this culture supports looking inward, whereas western civilization has a propensity for pushing forward. Yoga reminds us that we don’t need to hurry and that our hard work will be best rewarded by taking care of ourselves first and foremost. It reminds us to breathe, an autonomic function that is a healing practice itself and which Lia Antonicello integrates into her teachings. In recent years, Lia has practiced Transformational Breathwork that she claims is a catalyst for her personal and professional ventures. Lia attributes motherhood to teaching her the importance of maintaining the balance between what you give others and what you give yourself. As she put it, “If we don’t fill up our own cups, then we have nothing to share with others.” Cape May Yoga has become a significant space for peace and mindfulness in our community, promoting healing through movement and much more.
Lia had not always envisioned yoga as her career; she originally pursued fashion in New York City. A visit to Hawaii to see a friend brought her to a yoga class that inspired her, planting the seed of her future endeavors. Eventually she traded in hemlines for Hatha when she attended yoga teacher training on Mexico’s east coast. She returned to Cape May, where she had summered since childhood, to begin pursuing her passion. She bounced around, teaching classes sporadically until a chat in 2015 with local business Magic Brain introduced her to an available space above them in the Carpenter Square Mall. The initial hustle of working outside of the studio to generate steady income to feed her dream came with challenges that brought Lia to a crossroads. She was a new mother with a ton of responsibility and had to decide where she would dedicate her time and energy. Lia says that once she devoted herself to Cape May Yoga, she felt the universe aided her along this path. The early stages of the business consisted of local clientele and building a strong sense of community, which has exponentially grown since, but there is plenty of unlocked potential still in store for Lia’s mindful movement.
Lia said she is grateful to Cape May County for supporting her business and allowing her to develop a safe space for clients. She infuses this gratitude into her community involvement. She visited Wildwood Catholic Academy toward the end of their 2022 school year to guide some students through a flow, exposing local youth to healthy outlets. Cape May Yoga often partners with other local businesses like Willow Creek Winery for Vinyasa in the Vines, and boat yoga with Cape May Whale Watchers. Other activities that the studio organizes beyond yoga—like full moon gatherings—further encourage connection in our area.
“I hope that what I do can inspire people to open more into the feminine aspects of themselves, allow life to unfold rather than have to forcibly push through,” she said. Society is slowly learning that femininity is not inherently lacking power but is power of a different nature. There is great strength in emotional awareness, vulnerability, and healing, all strong suits that the women of Cape May Yoga embrace.
“You are your own greatest Guru,” Lia said. “I am only here as a guide to bring you back to yourself.”
Ostara’s Coffee House: Baristas on the Boulevard
In mythology, Ostara is the Germanic Goddess of spring, and represents the fertility of the earth, creation, and prosperity. In alignment with these themes, West Cape May’s Ostara’s Coffee House opened on the 2018 Spring Equinox. The name was inspired by Neil Gaiman’s book, American Gods. The tone set by owners Victoria and Anastasia Maniotis taps into the nurturing energy that Goddess Ostara embodies, with motherhood also etched into the fabric of their business. In fact, the birth of Victoria’s daughter Ariadne inspired these sisters-in-law to begin their venture.
After years in rural Pennsylvania living with Anastasia’s family, the two felt the urge to return to Cape May, where Vicki was born and raised, and Anastasia had grown up since childhood. The urge spiked during a visit to town when they got together with close friends, the women from Perigee Moon Tattoo, and shared their idea to open a coffee shop. They received tremendous support from the Perigee team, who’d themselves experienced a few years of growth. Vickie said that Kirsten’s (Perigee Moon owner) encouragement was what motivated them to move forward. She also wanted her friends around as role models for her daughter. “I want Ariadne as a woman to see other strong women.”
The ball started rolling faster than Vickie and Anastasia anticipated, with Ariadne born in early September, the café finalized later that month, and the lease signed by November. Vicki had experience working with local coffee shop, Magic Brain, for approximately 10 years and had nothing but admiration and respect for their business. Magic Brain welcomed the idea with open arms, even gifting them with an espresso machine to kick things off. Before they knew it the Spring Equinox was just around the corner, and Ostara’s Coffee House was introduced to West Cape May, right on Park Boulevard.
Ostara’s may be centered on caffeine but has a multitude of elements that give the cafe its spirit, which locals cherish. Vickie and Anastasia’s vision was to promote local involvement, and the duo held creative events from the start: crystal shows, mushroom foraging talks, painting events, tarot readings, group tea meditations, and many more intriguing gatherings.
Something about the combination of coffee and books is mutually complementary, so the immersion of literature via a collection of books for sale here fits. Their collection is quaint yet rich with diversity, with used to newer literary works on topics ranging from philosophy to art, and fascinating fictional narratives. They also support fellow small businesses by selling jewelry and art made by local creators.
Motherhood is deeply ingrained into the business for Vicki. “I was able to make money and be close to my child to nurture that relationship,” she said, adding that their earliest customers feel as if they’ve taken part in Ariadne’s childhood. There is a kid’s corner featuring a chalkboard and toys, a welcoming space for children to be entertained while caretakers sip their caffeinated concoctions.
Anastasia and Vickie have fun with their menu by infusing it with different themes as they refresh the selection in accordance with the seasons and solstice. A notable theme that emerged after this past summer solstice is “women in comedy,” with hopes to entice Tina Fey to pop by during one of her Cape May visits. Vicki and Anastasia make for a harmonious team because their characteristics complement each other and balance the establishment; “we are yin and yang.’’ This dynamic duo radiates an air of vulnerability, humor, and realness that makes for a comfortable and welcoming environment for the customers who are drawn to it.
Green Street Market: Pioneers of Progression
If you know the term “the Cape May bubble,” then you are familiar with the small-town effect of feeling removed from the rest of the world. At times this can be dull, knowing all the same folks and lacking access to American culture via chain restaurants and big-box stores. However, an extraordinary upside to our town is the myriad of small businesses. In the early 2000s, processed foods seemed inescapable in South Jersey with a major absence of organic and alternative options. Our area was desperate for a legitimate health and wellness store. It was up to members of the community to recognize this and take it upon themselves to create one. Trish McMonagle and Diane Carrick did exactly that with Green Street Market in 2004.
They were part of the demand, as they grew tired of the long drives in pursuit of organic groceries. Once they began throwing around the idea of opening a health-food store, word spread and initiated a ball to start rolling faster than they were prepared to catch up with, like the origin story of Ostrara’s Coffee House. As Trish said, “We said we were going to do it and from there it took on a life of its own,” also mentioning that they were often operating off intuition throughout the process. The women explained that the Greek Goddess Gaia, goddess of Earth and mother of all life, informed their mission. The business’s LLC even bears this name.
Their holistic and eco-conscious approach continued under the title Green Street Market, with “green” representing the earth and “street” signifying a way or path. They opened in Rio Grande and an expansion in 2013 moved them right across Route 9. The atmosphere is unlike the common grocery store; it is welcoming, with greenery draped from the shelves and many unique touches not found in a cold, corporate setting.
They carry an extensive collection of supplements, including their own house brand. Their products are clean, and they’re known for organic and local produce. The café, which opened during the expansion, includes 100% organic contents from the juice bar and kitchen. This is Cape May’s hot spot for alternative medicines and wellness methods. They even have a mini-spa and therapy room located in the back of the store under the name “Bee Kynd Spa”. Bee Harrison and Ky Wilson use traditional and ancient methods for wellness and beauty, offering services like massage therapy, aroma therapy, skin care and more. The store has formed its own conscious community among staff and customers. Bonds are made between the aisles with fellow shoppers sharing resources and nutritional wisdom.
Trish and Diane were ahead of their time with Green Street since it was one of the very first spots in Cape May County with a sustainable and holistic approach—one example being their elimination of plastic bags long before they were required by law. As the years progressed, other like-minded startups in town sought out support and guidance from Trish and Diane. They continue to lend a hand in any way they can for the greater cause of promoting health-conscious lifestyles in the area. The team that backs Trish and Dianne is composed of many intelligent and kind women, making this a very female operation. The Goddess Gaia is seemingly present through every facet of this business, with food acting as the foundational point of bringing us back to nature. Green Street represents the grounding practice of using food as medicine, and they stay true to their mantra-like slogan: “Peace Love Green Street Market.”
Perigee Moon Tattoo: The Sisterhood of the Century
Cape May is brimming with brilliant local artisans who create through ever-increasing channels. Surprisingly, an ink shop was absent from the island for many years. We were as due for a tattoo parlor as Kirsten Ewing was for creative liberation. What do they call that…divine timing? This local business owner was glowing with gratitude during our conversation of what was, what is, and what will be for Perigee Moon Tattoo.
Kirsten had clocked her fair share of daunting and often dreadful hours in the tattoo industry, starting professionally at the age of 19. Most of her previous belittling industry encounters were deeply rooted in sexist mistreatment, posing the threat of compromising one’s integrity and passion. Perhaps Kirsten’s character and resilience aided in her perseverance. Her gender was perceived as a weakness in the eyes of previous employers; little did they know it was her biggest asset. She now runs a feminine tattooing powerhouse comprised of six graceful and courageous women.
When it came time for Kirsten to cultivate a space that harnessed the values that her previous work environments lacked, she was drawn to their location on Broadway in West Cape May and opened in 2015 with the help and patience of local contractor Gary Gilbert. Her intention was to create an atmosphere of safety, inclusivity, sensitivity, and of course creativity. Kirsten succeeded in establishing a place where neither she nor anyone else will feel powerless. Once she secured the space, the gradual assemblage of her team commenced. Each artist apprenticed in the shop and therefore was introduced to tattooing in a welcoming, safe environment.
The stylistic work that the shop produces has a soft, feminine touch, thereby broadening the possibilities of tattoo options for their clients. They specialize in but are not limited to line work and floral pieces. Another artist at the shop, Destanie, emphasized that body art is expression. Clients approach these artists with their ideas, and the process of curating a tattoo with the client and bringing their vision to life is intimate and exciting. “We’re all just a bunch of art galleries,” says Destanie, “with the freedom to display what we please.”
The women of Perigee Moon speak through their work on social matters of inequality and injustice. “Every time we come to work is like an active protest,” says Kirsten. Their merge of art and activism was amplified when Sandy joined the team. She was introduced to the shop through a fundraiser they held for women’s rights that Sandy had organized with Cape May Indivisible, the local progressive group that organizes marches and peaceful protests. You will find the women of Perigee Moon at many of these events, proudly supporting positive social change.
The most fascinating aspect of this business is the sisterhood that developed among the artists. They endlessly encourage one another’s success, and this promotes prosperity for the business. Perigee Moon Tattoo is doing something wonderful for the sake of womanhood and the territories we were taught that we could not take part in, like tattoo culture. Like an alchemist, Kirsten transformed her troubling life experiences into one of the most beautiful and inspiring businesses in Cape May, pushing through the door of this community’s potential. ■