This is the next story in a series about the women entrepreneurs and business owners along Upshur Street in Petworth. Join us as we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th with a special community event free for the whole family.
I walked into Lulabelle’s Sweet Shop on a sunny Friday afternoon to interview owner Julie Wineinger about what it’s like to be a woman business owner. Before I could even sit down, the scene before me spoke volumes: there was Julie, one hand on her laptop, fielding questions from her staff behind the counter while discreetly nursing her five-week-old son inside a cloth carrier.
It was the epitome of the juggling act that every working mom performs, and is even more acute when that new mom is a business owner.
Wineinger owns not one but two businesses on Upshur’s commercial corridor: Willow, which opened in 2011, and Lulabelle’s, which opened in 2017. Willow is an older stateswoman of the Upshur drag; the only businesses that have outlasted it are Town & Country, King’s Nails and Dannie’s Carry Out across the street.
I asked why Wineinger decided to open a clothing shop in 2011, before Upshur became Upshur, and she laughed.
“I honestly didn’t put as much thought into it as I should have,” she says. “But this is our neighborhood.”
Wineinger describes the night before she opened Willow: someone had been stabbed at the defunct Island Cafe (now Petworth Citizen), and a flood of the Cafe’s customers came pouring out of the cafe and running down the street.
As she set up her inventory, she thought: “What have I done?”
Eight years later, Wineinger has two businesses and two small children. Somehow, she makes it work.
Her oldest son, August, grew up inside Willow, just like Wineinger grew up inside her parents’ shop in her native Kansas. Wineinger opted not to enroll her son in daycare, but instead looked after him inside Willow, which was never very busy during the day — shop owner’s prerogative. Naps? No problem. A stroller inside the cozy bathroom would do, with a ceiling fan for white noise.
“Willow is the kind of place where it’s easier to do that,” Wineinger explains.
As a new mom myself, I couldn’t help but be amazed at how Wineinger took it all in stride.
Wineinger opened Lulabelle’s in 2017 for two reasons: first, she was tired of the rotating cast of carry-out joints next door to Willow, and second, there was nothing on the block for the growing throng of kids in the neighborhood.
“I wanted to see the [Lulabelle’s] space get activated into a space that was open,” she says. “There are kids all over our neighborhood and there’s nothing kid-oriented at all. Ice cream seemed doable.”
And so, Lulabelle’s was born.
Just last month, the sweet shop underwent renovations and expanded its breakfast and lunch offerings, again as a response to community demand. It re-opened in early February, when Wineinger’s youngest son was just a month old.
In typical fashion, Wineinger seemed unfazed at the close timing of these two major events.
“It worked out that my son came a month early,” she said. “Otherwise it would have been tough.”