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North Shore Women to Watch

Over 100 local business leaders gather for networking mixer at The Hotel Salem

By Alyse Diamantides

In December of 2018, Jesenia Morales founded her own business in Salem. Named after her son, Romeo’s Smoothies & Juices pop-up bar uses natural ingredients to create a variety of plant-based drinks.

Jesenia Morales – Romeo’s Smoothies and Juices @romeosjuices

While working as a bartender, Morales said she became interested in the health industry after trying juicing several years ago. “It completely changed my life,” she added. Now she serves up her homemade creations at farmers markets and food truck festivals in and around Salem.

Romeo’s Smoothies & Juices was one of three vendors at Wednesday evening’s Women’s Networking Mixer in The Cellar at The Hotel Salem. Hosted by the Peabody Essex Museum, more than 120 women gathered to build connections with other North Shore creatives, entrepreneurs and business leaders.

Doneeca Thurston, Creative Engagement Producer at PEM, organized the event. In January, she ran an exclusive Women’s Brunch that coincided with the museum exhibition Empresses of China’s Forbidden City — encouraging dozens of women to embrace their inner strength.

Peabody Essex Museum Women's Networking at Hotel Salem
Doneeca Thurston , creative engagement producer for Peabody Essex Museum and Alyse Diamantides, freelance writer. @peabodyessex

After receiving feedback of the lack of networking opportunities for women entrepreneurs, she decided to create this informal mixer where people could mingle and share their business insights.

“For me, it’s all about building a space for women to connect,” said Thurston, adding how another event is already in the works.

Founded in Salem, Creative Collective provides opportunities for small business, entrepreneurs, and nonprofits to expand their brand across the North Shore. Serving as Assistant Director of Marketing and Development, Kati Nalbandian described how much of their membership program is primarily female-owned businesses.

“This is our world without even realizing it,” she said. “It’s important we work together and have a system of collaboration.”

Rosario Ubiera, Jobeth Williams, Kati Nalbandian at the Hotel Salem
Rosario Ubiera – @cojuelosproductions, Jobeth Williams – @jobutta, Kati Nalbandian @creativenorthshore at the Hotel Salem @stayhotelsalem

One such businesswoman in attendance was Mikki Wilson, who founded Dot Connector Consulting in February. Having worked in finance for 15 years, she soon realized she could turn her ability to connect people with one another into her own business.

Providing marketing, coaching, consulting and social media training, Wilson works one-on-one with clients to offer viable solutions to problems they are facing. Being a Creative Collective member, she calls herself a middleman and leverages the Collective when her clients need more extensive services.

Mikki Wilson, Dot Connector Consulting
Mikki Wilson, Dot Connector Consulting @mikkiconnectsdots

Starting her own business was no simple task. “You have to spend time focusing on the business rather than being in the business,” Wilson added. She often finds she faces many of the same marketing challenges her clients experience. “It’s hard for me to take my own advice.”

Socializing throughout the crowded hotel cellar and recognized by many was Founder and Principal of Cojuelos’ Productions Rosario Ubiera. Striving for social justice, she collaborates closely with Creative Collective to provide culturally oriented programing and high-end events within the community.

“I celebrate artistic expression by creating a platform for artists of color,” said Ubiera, who was also integral in the creation of the Punto Urban Art Museum in Salem’s Point neighborhood. “I try to tell stories that no one is telling through art.”

Rosario ubiera shopping with Mayflower Vintage
A little shopping action with Mayflower Vintage and Antiques with Rosario Ubiera from @cojuelosproductions

While many in attendance were new to the business scene, Patricia Zaido’s been working and advocating in Salem for decades. Serving as co-chair of Salem of All Ages, she’s working with Mayor Kim Driscoll on a program designed to make Salem age friendly to both the young and old. She said they’re looking to establish a city-wide public shuttle accessible to everyone.

Events and Sales Coordinator at The Hotel Salem Olivia Keefe said it’s important for the hotel to attract tourists as well as North Shore residents, like Ubiera and Zaido. “Collaboration with locals is what makes us succeed,” she said.

Networking and connections at the Hotel Salem

Nestled on a riser between Romeo’s Smoothies & Juices and Dot Connector Consulting that evening was Elizabeth Gardner of Mayflower Vintage — a pop-up and online vintage clothing business.

Co-founded with her mother in 2015, her shop sells vintage clothing and accessories from the 1940s to ‘90s, along with eclectic home goods and vinyl records. On Saturday, May 18, Mayflower Vintage will have a pop-up spot at the Salem Flea Market. While selling items at local bazaars and events, Gardner also works full time as an Interpretation Planner at PEM.

Mayflower Vintage at the Peabody Essex Museum's Women's Networking Mixer at Hotel Salem.
Mayflower Vintage at the Peabody Essex Museum’s Women’s Networking Mixer at Hotel Salem. @mayflower_vintage

“Vintage isn’t just affordable, it’s a way of reusing clothes and it produces zero waste,” she said, adding how it’s also appealing when trends come back in style. “I know I’m getting a piece no one else will have.”

Recycling items is something Linda Mullen knows personally. Owner of Grace & Diggs on  Artists’ Row, she constructs wearable art from unconventional materials. Taking a seat at The Cellar bar, she explained how her shop is a mix of a gallery, workshop and event space that features local handcrafted items.

A highlight piece created by Grace and Diggs for the 2018 Salem Arts Festival Fashion Show fundraiser. @graceanddiggs

On Friday, April 26, she’ll debut five original pieces and one large installation in the annual Fashion Show Fundraiser for the Salem Arts Festival.

“I love having a place to show my work,” Mullen noted. And the connections she’s made through Creative Collective allows her to do just that.

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