A new group in the borough is bringing together women business owners, entrepreneurs and creative types for skills sharing and networking — and it’s picking up steam.
Lydia Shafer, the group creator, is calling it the “Local Girl Gang.” It’s grown to more than 150 members over the past few months.
“It started with just girls in Bellefonte, basically girls who have stores on High Street,“ Shafer said. Now it’s open to anyone in central Pennsylvania, and “you don’t have to own a business.”
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Shafer said she started the group to help women establish businesses and to support women business owners. She wants to encourage women to collaborate instead of looking at one other as competition, she said.
As a young adult, Shafer said she looked up to older girls with creative pursuits. She hopes now to be “a positive role model” for younger girls who want to begin a business or pursue their passions, she said.
Originally from the Lock Haven area, Shafer, 32, has lived in Bellefonte on and off for about six years. While balancing a 12-year career in hairstyling, she decided to try her hand at photography and opened a studio in downtown Bellefonte in November 2017.
Living in central Pennsylvania her whole life, Shafer said she always longed to connect to a larger, creative community. Scrolling through Instagram or Pinterest, she said, she would see women in bigger cities hosting events and meet-ups for business owners and creative people.
“And I would think, ‘I want to do that; I want to be part of that,’ ” she said.
In late 2018, she expanded her studio space and family members helped her fix up the addition. The bigger space “kick-started all the things I wanted to do,” she said.
She invited all the women she knew with businesses in the Bellefonte area to a Facebook group meant to help connect them.
“Honestly, I just wanted my friends to know each other. Let’s create photo shoots with each other, or let’s just use it ... with any kind of business,” she said.
But the group grew as people continued to add their friends — some of whom didn’t have businesses but wanted to start them, or wanted to start a blog or a podcast or launch workshops. So many women reached out to Shafer about collaborating and event planning that she decided to host a meet-up at her photography studio.
The event, held on Feb. 24, was curated by local businesses including The Cakery, Pocketful of Posies Florist, Elise Event Company and Chalk it Up with Shianne — with cookies by Shafer’s mother, Leslie Felmlee.
Between 40 and 50 women attended and lauded the event as a success, Shafer said.
Alyssa Marsh, the founder and co-owner of Wink! Photo Booths in State College, loved how the gathering brought people together, she said.
“It’s always fun to get a chance to see other girls locally that are doing the same thing I am ... in a creative career,” she said.
Marsh was excited to meet Shafer, who she had seen on Instagram but never met. Shafer’s “positive” demeanor and her “gorgeous” studio space inspired Marsh and got her thinking about new ideas for her own business, she said.
Coming out of the event, Marsh said she would love to see collaborations among group members for styled photo shoots to promote wedding content at her business.
Shafer said she wants to keep the momentum going. She and another group member, Ellen Matis of Hello Social Co. in Bellefonte, are attending a conference in a few weeks in Palm Springs, California, hosted by Alt Summit, a community of women entrepreneurs and influencers working in creative fields.
Shafer’s hoping to get ideas from the conference on how to run a creative group and where to take the energy of the Local Girl Gang, she said.
“But I do kind of like that we’re not connected to anything bigger,” she said. “I like the fact that it’s just us trying to hang out. There’s no pressure to do certain things.”
Several local business owners and entrepreneurs have already made connections through the group, said Shafer. A woman with an online boutique of sweaters linked up with a photographer to showcase her inventory. Shafer is partnering with several business owners to do a styled photo shoot.
Though the next meet-up hasn’t been scheduled, Shafer is confident it will come together like the last one. She wants the meet-ups to continue to be “a good time” and “organic” so that other enterprising women can get their “journey started” and build lasting relationships.
“I am excited about what’s going to happen moving forward,” she said.