There’s a problem right now: in order for our economy to work, creative, enterprising young people need to start their own businesses. However, thanks to a wide variety of factors, millennials are actually the least entrepreneurial generation. So much hard work and creativity is being swallowed up by the gig economy, while young people are forced to perform increasingly ridiculous stunts to land a halfway decent job.

Millennials need support, education and understanding to help them break through and build their own careers and businesses. It’s why we’re so excited to be a sponsor of Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress’ upcoming Young Professional Summit on May 22. It will be held at Newburgh Brewing Company (one of the Hudson Valley’s Most-Instagrammed Places, by the way) from 4 to 9 p.m., and will feature talks from people like Meghan Taylor, the Regional Director of Empire State Development, a civic engagement panel, and an in-person social networking session with $2 off all Newburgh Brewing Company beers.

We’re hyped for the event, and to celebrate, our creative marketing agency put together six interviews with other millennial business owners with their stories: not just the good stuff, but their challenges and obstacles to success.


1. Newburgh: John Bonhomme Jr., Real Estate Investor

Origins: I started out in Newburgh as a real estate investor. What ended up happening was that I became part of the community. There were some things that needed fixing. I started out by solely buying multi-family housing buildings, renovating them, and renting them out to low and middle-income families. It seemed to have a positive effect on the community. I wanted to start investing in commercial spaces to open them up, because a lot of commercial spaces in the city were closed down, boarded up. That led me to my last two ventures.

I first visited Newburgh back in 2010. My sister was a resident of the city. I remember being pulled over by the cops because they didn’t recognize us, and I couldn’t even walk around with the violence and the crime that the city had, being kind of scared.

I work in New York City, and I tried the stock market, but I got caught in the recession. My money evaporated, and I started looking into real estate investing. I did all of the research; I read books, I Googled the rents, I looked up the purchase prices of buildings, factored in the taxes, the insurance, all of it. The City of Newburgh seemed to have the highest ROI of anywhere within two hours of NYC. I bought my first building in 2012.

Work-life balance: I technically reside in NYC, but I spend more time in Newburgh than my residence. I come up here from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., and then do my night job in the city. I work here throughout the week, and right now, I’m working on my fifth building full-time.

Advice for other millennials: I’d tell them the work is worth it. We have one life to live. Throughout my time and my ventures up here, I feel like I’ve created a family. I’ve brought together a band of people who I would not have met otherwise. It’s a unique and fulfilling feeling, and it feels great to provide a job or a source of income for someone who needs it, or teach someone how to do an ability that they don’t have.

As for myself, I’ve learned a lot how to read architectural drawings, engineering surveys, how to build buildings from the ground up. I still play World of Warcraft, League of Legends, but everyone needs to see and experience life and help others. Get off the couch, turn off Netflix for a little while, turn off Fortnite, and start building something. If you want to be independent, take the leap.

Challenges: There’s not a day where I don’t think about selling everything and giving it all up, but the positive definitely outweighs the negative. It’s a struggle, it’s very hard. Waking up at 6 a.m. on five hours of sleep is not for everyone. You have to drink 5-6 cups of coffee a day, you have to be a zombie some days.

I’ve been hearing a lot about gentrification in Newburgh. I try to incorporate local people as much as possible. I put their influences on my commercial spaces. I don’t want to be that guy who comes in and develops a skyscraper and solely uses my people from the city. I like to bring different communities, cultures, ethnic backgrounds, diversity together, to bring this mix of the future together.

About Deja Brew: Newburgh is very artsy, it’s amazing to walk around at the open studios. I wanted to combine an art gallery and coffee, two things that I truly love. I kind of formatted a commercial space as an art gallery. You have the ability to go in and get a really good cup of coffee. We do events, poetry slams, indie underground, it’s primarily open on the weekends from 10-2. The building was used as a dogfighting pit when I got it. I couldn’t let that space be that anymore.

Next project: We’re starting a neighborhood pub called Lucy’s on Liberty. When we got the building, it had no roof, you couldn’t walk inside. It was worth its weight in bricks. I told you a little about my investments in the stock market and how I didn’t do well. I was actually very poor before my business ventures. My father and I sold our family heirlooms. We had to go down to the diamond district in NYC and sold my grandmother Lucy’s jewelry to stay afloat. That gave us enough seed money to sustain us. This building and restaurant is named after her.

What I’ve heard from the locals is that they don’t have a local bar to have a beer. Everything on the waterfront, or further north on Liberty Street is not for locals. This section here borders the Washington Heights section of Newburgh. They’ve told me that they want a little pub, a little bar, to enjoy some bar food, watch a game or something. I said alright, this is the perfect spot for it. A lot of bodega owners and deli owners wanted this spot, but I decided to go with the restaurant route. It sounds easier than it is, there are a lot of things to get in place, a lot of research you have to do. I hope it pays off not only for the community, but as a business venture.

2. Beacon: Laura Leigh & Samantha Abby, The Studio

Full Disclosure: The Studio @ Beacon is a client of Kingston Creative for web design and branding.

Background (Laura): My wife and I have always been creative people. I’m a writer, she’s a producer. We met in Boston at Emerson College back in 2003. We just liked the freelance world, the flexibility of being our own bosses, collaborating with people. On top of that, we really liked fitness. Not in a way of tracking weight loss, or posting photos of our progress, but as something that makes us feel strong and positive.

Boxing and spinning really worked for us in terms of making us feel good overall, and healthy. We figured we love it, we know other people love it. We knew we wanted to move upstate and get a smaller-town vibe in the Hudson Valley, and try to start our own fitness studio. We wanted to tether ourselves to a new community with our outlook on fitness, getting strong, not focused on how our bodies look or who the other people are in class. Just creating a really positive environment for us and the people we care about.

Advice to other millennials: Find a mentor, which is not an easy thing to do. Starting a business takes a lot of research. We found a mentor who helped us create a business plan for our small business. If you can find a mentor in the world in which you’re trying to break into, it’s so valuable. We also met with owners of fitness studios in this area to find out what people are like here. What works, what doesn’t. Really start doing your research.

More advice: I remember throughout our business plan and hiring contractors, there were people who wanted to come onboard, and I was so shocked they were into our idea! Once you have a good idea, as a millennial, it’s really easy to second guess yourself. I was surprised every time, like “My god, people think this is a good idea?”

Of course it’s a good idea! Find confidence in your idea, and find people who can and will support you, and be a supportive member of the community. We were going into fitness, so we needed to be educated on what’s trending in fitness, and what people are interested in. Do your homework and talk to people. That’s not really easy for me, and it takes a lot of going out of your comfort zone.

Biggest surprise: Figuring out how to inspire people and finding the right people to work with you is a challenge. I’ve never been someone’s boss, and a lot of it is asking, “What can I do to make this better for you?”

It’s not easy to ask for negative feedback, but it’s kind of like swallowing a pill and realizing you have to do it in order to be successful. You’re not going to be the perfect owner or boss. Slowing down and asking what can you do to make this better.

Closing thoughts: We were coming from the city where there’s a spin studio on every corner, where a spin class can get sold out instantly. We wanted to live in a small town, and do something that would work in a small town. There are different price points, and a different atmosphere.  Beacon is growing so much and so fast, and it’s fun meeting the other business owners, hearing their ideas and why they came here, or if they always were here, finding ways to involve them. We really love this town.

3. Hudson: Roger Hannigan Gilson, The Other Hudson Valley

Background: I was born in Baltimore, but I grew up outside of Danbury. I first came to the Hudson Valley when I was 20, to attend SUNY New Paltz…. I switched from psychology and came back to pursue a journalism degree. I graduated four years ago, and interned at the Legislative Gazette in Albany. I briefly stayed on as an assistant to the editor. Essentially, I was a stringer for the Ballston Journal, helping run their website and writing stories and press releases. I then went on to work at the Register-Star. I worked there for just shy of two years, mostly doing crimes and court. I quit on good terms the April before last.

Origins: I originally started the blog for a class in college. It certainly was not what it is today. It had a different focus. I started it for a class on entrepreneurial journalism and really ran with it.

During that class, I hatched a plan to do it full-time as a living after I graduated, but there’s no way you can work for a newspaper while essentially working for a second newspaper. I picked it back up 13 months ago.

There’s been a great constriction of journalism. By the time I was moving on to graduating back in 2014, journalism was in heavy decline. How can I make a profession out of this when there are so few job opportunities? But I also knew journalism needed to evolve, and if it didn’t evolve, it would die out. I knew there would be some form of “the news.”

Challenges: I don’t have doubts. I am traditionally a very doubtful person, but I’ve never been so sure of anything in my life. If I had doubts, it would inhibit my progress.  Stressful, yes. Not as stressful as working for a daily newspaper… I’m going to say it’s because I have more control. There’s a certain frustration of not having complete control over something with your name on it. It can be stressful, but I can find it so enjoyable. The hardest part of it is there’s only so many hours in a day. I generally work 20-25 hours a week at my day job at Camphill Hudson, and I spend another 40 hours a week on the blog. I wish I was able to see friends more.

One of the cool things is that a component of the blog is to have adventures. That’s the more bloggy aspect of it and less newspapery… first person accounts, I try to involve my buddies in that, and it makes a better story and I get to hang out with them.

Plan for the future: The number one barrier for me is the assumption that everything online is free. When I was working for the Register-Star, once in a while we got a comment that people would wonder why we have to pay after 10 articles. God dammit, it costs us money to do this.

It’s ironic that I certainly rely on the culture of the internet, social media, that sort of thing, to get my product out there. The assumption is that anything you find online should be free. I would very much like to put up a paywall on my site, or charge per article, but that would be completely impossible, especially for something non-established like mine.

Eventually, it’s going to be me selling advertising. I would do it in the traditional sense of going around to businesses, asking if they want to advertise. A couple of people have approached me asking to advertise, but I’m not quite in the position yet to do it.

4. Mamaroneck: Jamie Weisinger, MADE: my art + design experience

Background: I went to undergrad at Columbia College Chicago for art management. I graduated in 2008, and I couldn’t find a job. I ended up working in a small paint your own pottery studio on Long Island. It was a great job, all I did all day was play with kids and make art with people. I went to grad school at the American University of Paris for Communication and Branding. I spent all this money going through this program, but working in the pottery studio was always the best thing ever. I came back from Paris, and was interviewing for jobs at marketing agencies, and I kept getting offered these jobs that were about selling Chef Boyardee, campaigns for big companies. It felt like all my grad work was about influencing people’s minds with advertising.

Origins: I worked at a non-profit theater in Mamaroneck for 4.5 years, and one of my goals was to open my own pottery studio. The whole time I was at this non-profit theater, I was working on a business plan and doing research. At one point, the storefront across the street from my apartment was going out of business, and I said that’s where my store is going to be. It’s been three years, took a lot of money, but we’re doing well. It’s an art studio too, and we have six or seven mediums available on any day, and we do different workshops. There’s a do it yourself atmosphere, we never make anybody do what we’re doing. It’s like, “here are the tools for fiber weaving, here’s how to use them.”

It’s been really well-received. It’s not just for kids, our demographic is really 50/50. We get kids but but also lots of adults and millennials, people in their 20s.

Challenges: When I first opened the store, my aunt would come in and freak me out. There was this constant stream of you should do this, people trying to tell me what I should and shouldn’t do. There was little trust with the education I had that I would be able to figure it out myself. I said to my aunt that I used to get really anxious when she’d walk through the door, and I’d feel disapproval.

Now when she walks in and the store is full, what can she say to me? You can’t say I’m doing something wrong, there are people it’s here, it’s packed. I think that from older people in my community anyway, it was all well-intentioned, and I’d just get caught in a lot of advice conversations. People are just really shocked that a paint your own pottery studio is doing so well. Even though there’s pottery, it’s an art studio.

At first I didn’t want to put anybody off, but now, I’m comfortable sending out emails with weird subject lines, being a little more absurd. If I say in an Instagram post that something is “fancy as [blank]”, I don’t feel weird doing that anymore. If there’s one person who doesn’t like it, and they say wow, I can’t believe this business is doing this, there are also five 25-year olds saying, wow we should go there.

More Challenges: When people are unhappy, and threaten to leave a bad Yelp review, it can be really scary. Having to be face-to-face with people all day. Previously, I was in the background of building a business, but now I’m in a situation where if they’re upset, they come directly to me. I’ve never been responsible for hundreds of people’s happiness. You try and to give everyone the best treatment all the time, but right and wrong is really important to me. It’s the biggest learning curve, the the thing that has raised my heart rate the most. I’m not just responsible for my partner and step kids dog, but I’m responsible for everyone else.

Advice to others: Take a business class. Going to school for business and management was the best thing for me, but if it’s not something that you’re able to do, go for whatever you want, don’t look behind you. If I had sat doing the job I was doing forever, I would’ve regretted it. I’m not making what I would’ve at a big agency, but I love what I’m doing seven days a week.

Trust your gut, but also do the research. I spent three years on my business/marketing plan before I opened. I really did the work that I was taught and told to do, and figured out that where I opened was going to be a lucrative spot for me. I’m also lucky to be surrounded by female business owners who are on the young side. It’s a cool supportive little enclave we have here in Mamaroneck.

5. Beacon: Brian Arnoff, The Kitchen Sink/Meyer’s Olde Dutch

Background: I grew up in Poughkeepsie, and have been working in the food business since I was 15… I got a job at Adam’s Fairacre Farms then. I went to Boston University and spent two years working for a James Beard Award-winning chef.

I went on to work for the Four Seasons, and eventually had the idea to open a food truck in Washington DC. We opened in November of 2010, and for three and a half years, we specialized in all different kinds of mac and cheese. It was awesome, I was able to get a small loan to help buy the truck, had some money saved up. It was kind of lucky timing, we were the 8th or 9th food truck to open in Washington DC, we were right in the beginning of all that taking off.

I sold the business, moved back back to the Hudson Valley with my wife, and I planned on opening a restaurant. In 2015, we opened the Kitchen Sink, and then Meyer’s Olde Dutch last year.

Getting started: I grew up in a family that owned a small business; we’ve been in the moving and storage business for like five generations. I grew up around my dad running a small business, and it was always something i had an interest in.

I always dreamed of opening a restaurant once I graduated from college, but there wasn’t a likely leap from just being a chef somewhere to opening your own restaurant, especially in DC, because of the amount of capital it would take. I started looking at other avenues, and doing a food truck seemed like a good stepping stone. I knew there was an inherent risk involved, I was signing my life away for quite a bit of money. But I felt like I had to take the leap.

Advice to millennials: You have to look at the numbers. More people should be pursuing opening small businesses, there’s huge potential in our economy. The number one thing is you have to work on it while you’re on another job, working two jobs at the same time. Write a business plan, try to figure out how the numbers are going to work out, and try to figure out how you’ll get the capital you need to get started. People are always afraid that they’re not going to get the money.

Challenges: One of the things that people don’t appreciate about small business owners is that you wear a lot of different hats. That’s definitely challenging but it keeps it interesting. I’m not just a chef, some days I have to be an electrician (I fixed the oven at my restaurant the other day), sometimes I have to mop the floors or wash dishes. You just do whatever it takes to keep things moving forward.

6. Catskill: Jordan Lane, Drop Dead Barber Shop

Background: I guess I had a pretty simple upbringing. We were brought up in New Baltimore, NY. I was an athlete, a wrestler and an artist, and when I went to college, I had it in my head that I wanted to be in the city, like most artists my age. I went to Columbia-Greene Community College for fine art, and I went on SUNY Albany to get my bachelors degree in fine art, with a minor in business.

After graduating, I was working at Lowe’s for another four years, and I was in need of a change, but I wasn’t seeing anything that my degree could necessarily get me. After meeting my wife Sophia, we kind of looked around at places in the city, and decided it was not a good fit. There’s no way we could’ve afforded it. We bought a house in Albany, and while there, I kind of started cutting my own hair, just to save a buck here and there. In the process of doing that, I kind of found out that a lot of time could pass while I was working on my own head. I was like wow, I must really enjoy this, if I’m able to sit here and lose track of time.

Origins: I started cutting friends’ hair, and cutting my wife’s hair. My wife’s stepmother (a former Catskill barber) kept complimenting my haircuts, and kind of pushed me into barber’s school, and had a grueling eight months of working full-time and going to night classes. The funny thing is, I was the only night student, I was alone in my class. I got some hands-on teaching.

After that, I received a job offer at Duke’s Barber Shop in Albany, through a referral from an instructor. It couldn’t have come at a worse time.We decided we were kind of sick of living in Albany, and we wanted a little more privacy, so we decided to move to my wife’s hometown of Catskill. We’ve been loving it here.

I work a full-time job at RPI in Troy, and I barber by night now. We started converting the basement floor of our home in Catskill into a full barber shop, while also renovating the house.

Becoming official: Two months ago, we were approved by the town, I received by barber license, my shop owner’s license, two months ago we received a home occupation variance as well as a certificate of tax authority, and we gave it a go and launched it. Now, I’ve been slowly been building customers, feeling a little bit of a buzz in town now. I go to speak to other business owners in town, and they seem to know who I am, and it’s kind of odd having that feeling. It’s super exciting to have new clients come in every week. I was really excited to work for Duke’s Barber Shop, I was like wow, I’m giving up this huge opportunity, but it led me to jump in and start my own business.

Advice to millennials: My ultimate goal is to be happy. I’m currently working my full-time job, but I need it. I need it for my paycheck. I guess my advice is to not quit your day job, and you have to be willing to have some three hour nights to fulfill your goals and chase after what you actually want to do. It certainly wasn’t easy getting to this level in my life. It’s certainly not easy still. I have to leave here and go straight home and start heating up hot towels for customers rolling in at six o clock. It’s not easy on my wife, but she knows that eventually when I go full-time barbering, we’re going to be super happy. She’s also trying to work from home, she’s an interning architect, and one day she’d like to start her own firm.

Looking forward: You can’t really talk about Catskill without talking about the last 10-15 years. My wife tells me, when she was here growing up, they were kind of on the up and up. Lots of new shops, things were booming, but Catskill used to go through these waves. Shops didn’t sustain local business, they kind of catered to weekend traffic, spilling over from Hudson. We’re at a point right now where things in Catskill seem to be becoming more permanent. It’s not just a phase or a fad, it feels like a lot of the shops opening up on Main Street are owned by younger people, all trying to start something new and keeping the town exciting. I think it’s going to stick.

I kind of came in to Catskill at the perfect time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *