More women are claiming their place in business and politics

June Czelusniak, 77, owner of June’s Hallmark in the Price Chopper Plaza on Route 30, has been in bu
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June Czelusniak, 77, owner of June’s Hallmark in the Price Chopper Plaza on Route 30, has been in business for more than 30 years.

She was one of the first female business owners on Route 30, when there were only a handful of stores on the now busy thoroughfare.

She recalls how difficult it was for her to receive a loan from the bank. After several attempts to secure one, Czelusniak had to have her husband back her endeavor with his pension. People predicted she would last only three months.

“They didn’t give women loans back then, unless you gave them two arms in return,” she said while eating lunch in the store’s back room on a recent afternoon. Not only has Czelusniak survived for 32 years, she is the only business owner in the area that has.

“She is the only owner, man or woman, who is still here,” store manager Barbara Bianchi said.

Czelusniak, a well-kempt woman with a wide smile, recalled sitting around her kitchen table with representatives from Hallmark, who were all men, and having them agree to let her sell Hallmark products in her card store. She now operates a Hallmark Gold Crown store, selling specialty cards, collectibles and gifts.

Being one of the only female business owners in the county when she opened her store, a lot of what she learned was through trial and error and instincts.

Today, more women are taking control of business and politics throughout the country, and the Mohawk Valley is no exception. Several large companies in the area are run by women and residents in the cities of Johnstown and Amsterdam have elected women to lead.

The Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce recently started a committee to help women business owners in the county get started, bond, commiserate and grow. The second meeting of WOW (Women of Worth) was held at the end of March at Noteworthy Industries Inc.

Noteworthy, the largest employer in Montgomery County, is run by a woman, Carol Constantino. She sat at the end of a long conference table discussing various activities the group planned to organize each month for the members of WOW, including speakers, parties and girls nights out.

The group hopes to help new women business owners by putting together a welcome packet.

“This will help them rather than finding out the hard way like the rest of us had to do,” Susan Dygon, owner of Susan Sanford’s School of Dance said. “More and more women are opening businesses these days.”

giving politics a try

Women are not only opening businesses; they are entering into politics.

This year, the city of Johnstown is celebrating its 250th anniversary. In 2005, the city’s residents elected its first woman mayor. Susan Singerland was sworn in on a Bible signed by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.

The Mohawk Valley has a history of inspiring prominent women. Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote her Declaration of Sentiments, which she delivered at the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, in Johnstown.

After Slingerland took office, a group of women started the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Women’s Consortium, and held their first conference this year. The group has also purchased a home at 9 S. William St., and plan to use it as a meeting place and museum highlighting women’s history in the Mohawk Valley.

“All these things are converging. I’m not saying I started it, they were all ready to be brought together, but this wave they are creating it very exciting,” Slingerland said. “It’s an exciting time for women in the Mohawk Valley and certainly in the city of Johnstown.”

Amsterdam’s first female mayor, Anne Thane, is trying to spur some excitement in her city, but she said being the first women mayor was more of an issue than she anticipated.

“It always surprises me when I run into bias,” she said. “Women are really powerful. My mother always said that men are the chiefs, but women are the bosses.”

Thane said she has run into people treating her condescendingly, with low expectations and with less respect because she’s a woman “who laughs a lot.”

“I sometimes feel like people are trying to push the envelope to see how far they can go with me,” she said.

She said most of the organizations in Amsterdam are run by men, including the newly appointed AIDA board, the Rotary, the golf commission, the planning board. She said most of the developers she deals with are men. She often walks into meetings with mostly men.

Thane doesn’t believe that Montgomery County is behind the times when it comes to accepting women in powerful roles.

“It’s across the board, not just in Montgomery County,” she said. “We’re all still suffragettes, I guess.”

Thane wishes that people would put less emphasis on gender and focus on her talents.

“I’m proud to be a women in this job and I like that it inspires people, especially young girls,” she said. “I would like them to know that doors are open for us, you just might have to push at them.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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