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Women’s EXPO

First time exhibitor Angelique Velez, owner of Breakups to Makeup

By Heidi Sutton

The Middle Country Public Library in Centereach hosted its 18th annual Women’s EXPO Oct.4. Thousands came out to kick off their holiday shopping at the one-day event which was presented by the Middle Country Library Foundation and the library’s Miller Business Resource Center.

More than 80 women entrepreneurs were given the opportunity to introduce their products, which included pottery, candles, baked goods, fall crafts, children’s books, clothing, jewelry, soaps and much more. 

This year’s event’s lead sponsor was Bank of America and was also sponsored by Campolo, Middleton & McCormick, LLP of Ronkonkoma. Volunteers from Bank of America helped make sure the day ran smoothly.

“We had a great turnout with over 2,300 shoppers,” said Elizabeth Malafi, coordinator of Adult Services and the Miller Business Resource Center. “Year after year the best thing about the EXPO is the people. We are lucky to have amazing volunteers, entrepreneurs and shoppers who make it such a special day.”

Vendors interested in participating in next year’s event are encouraged to visit www.womensExpoli.org.

Photos by Heidi Sutton

EXPO shoppers. Photo by Miranda Gatewood

Fall brings with it a chill in the air, pumpkin spice everything and the Women’s EXPO at the Middle Country Public Library in Centereach.

A recent study by American Express shows that between 1997 and 2017, the number of women-owned businesses increased at a rate 2.5 times higher than the national average with many of these businesses being run by creative women from their homes and studios. 

The annual Women’s EXPO, now in its 18th year, celebrates these women by connecting them with their peers, local business women and potential customers. This year’s event will be held on Thursday, Oct. 4 and will feature 83 exhibitors. 

“Our favorites are back along with a great selection of new women entrepreneurs just starting out,” said Sophia Serlis-McPhillips, director of the library. 

With a diverse group of entrepreneurs, there is something for everyone. Shoppers can find items such as jewelry, pottery, handbags and home decor. Serlis-McPhillips reminds us that the EXPO is much more than a trade show. “The library’s Miller Business Center works with these and other entrepreneurs all year, educating them on business topics and offering them ample opportunities to network with business professionals from throughout Long Island.” 

Here are some of the great women entrepreneurs you can meet at this year’s event:

Victoria Collette

Victoria Collette

According to Victoria Collette, she is in the business of empowering women. She started her fragrance company, POP SCENTsation, which allows shoppers to create their own fragrance; in the process they get to “discover what it means to be their unique self.”

Since launching, Collette has expanded to 23 fragrances and recently added Perfume Creation Kits. Participating in last year’s EXPO helped her get the word out about her new company and she is excited to be a part of this year’s event. “The energy of the day, being surrounded by and meeting so many amazing women entrepreneurs is incredible.”

Linda Johnson

Linda Johnson

Linda Johnson has always been a maverick, living outside the box. Her dream of owning her own business came to fruition in 2014 with Chocology, which was born out of her family’s “love of chocolate paired with a passion for learning and sharing.” The chocolate and fudge are delicious but, more importantly, it is sold with excitement and education. Beyond her businesses she created #ChocologyCares, supporting charities such as American VetDogs and Stony Brook Cancer Center.

Johnson’s commitment to community and supporting other entrepreneurs can be seen in her new venture — the Three Village Artisan and Farmers Market in Setauket, a gathering place bringing people together. This support and community is also what keeps Johnson coming back to the EXPO. “I love the camaraderie, I love the women and I learn so much!”    

Carly McAllister 

Carly McAllister

After Carly McAllister’s son developed eczema, she became concerned about the ingredients in store-bought soaps and started making her own using organic ingredients. McAllister gave extra bars to friends and family who told her it was so good she should sell it. Encouragement from her husband Michael and others resulted in Modern Primal Soap Co., whose goal is to make products that are as natural as possible. 

Having been an EXPO shopper for years McAllister (top photo) was excited to join the event as an exhibitor. ”I would love to be able to participate and applied as soon as I could.”  She is looking forward to another successful show. “The EXPO is something really special! I love being in a room with so many smart, talented women! The fellowship between the participants is amazing.”

Angelique Velez

Angelique Velez

A bad breakup didn’t slow down Angelique Velez; in fact, it was the impetus for Breakups to Makeup, her company that sells travel makeup clutches, T-shirts and tanks featuring motivational and inspirational words. Velez  (photo on right) realized that makeup inspires and lifts people up. “Making other people feel better inevitably helped to lift my spirits,” she said. Breakups to Makeup’s first slogan Love Raised Me, Lipstick Saved Me “encompassed everything I had been going through and showcased the importance of makeup in our lives as artists.” Since its inception, her products have been sold in major stores like Sephora and have been featured in InStyle, Refinery29 and Latina.

Velez is looking forward to her first time exhibiting at the EXPO. “Anything that supports women and women-owned business is very important to me. The fact that this also caters to Long Island businesses is something unique as well and I knew I wanted to be a part of it.”

The annual Women’s EXPO will take place on Thursday, Oct. 4, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Middle Country Public Library, 101 Eastwood Blvd, Centereach. Admission is free and there is ample parking. For further information, call the library at 631-585-9393, ext. 296 or visit www.womensEXPOli.org.

The Middle Country Public Library will once again host the Women's EXPO on Oct. 5. File photo by Heidi Sutton

By Kevin Redding

There’s an unattributable quote out there that says, “Behind every successful woman is a tribe of other successful women that have her back.” It wouldn’t be surprising to learn its source was referring to a certain annual event at the Middle Country Public Library in Centereach.

On Thursday, Oct. 5, for the 17th year in a row, the library will host a diverse group of women entrepreneurs — from artists to chefs to designers to craftspeople and beyond — during its Women’s EXPO, a one-day event where they can all network with colleagues, showcase and sell their work at the library and spread the word about their products.

“The expo’s really always been about seeing a group of women supporting women,” said Elizabeth Malafi, coordinator of Adult Services and the Miller Business Resource Center. “Our planning committee is made up of professional women. We select exhibitors who are women looking to grow their businesses and make new connections. Before and after the exhibit, we try and facilitate those connections.”

Malafi said shoppers this year should expect a total of 82 vendors, roughly 25 of whom will be brand new to the EXPO. And whereas last year, somewhere around 2,300 people squeezed into the library, this year’s goal is to break 2,500.

“It’s going to be a nice balance of women that people come to see every year and also newbies,” she said. “That way the new people can be guided by the people that have been here for a while and those who have been here awhile get a nice, new perspective of somebody who might be starting out.”

Malafi continued, “I think ultimately people should come out to support women entrepreneurs and the economic engine of Long Island. We need to keep our money local so we’re supporting where we live. This is a great opportunity to do that while also shopping for the holidays.” Meet some of the vendors at this year’s EXPO:

Maria Castilla

Maria Castilla

Coram’s Maria Castilla has come a long way since making clothes for her Barbie dolls when she was young. Now, as owner of ImuGifts, her home-based business, Castilla designs unique handmade bags, jewelry and sewn accessories, none of which are remade, her website boasts.

“I love getting to make something spectacular and super unique for someone that nobody else is going to have,” Castilla said. “Sometimes you buy something at Target or a retail store and it’s not made in America or not made by your neighbors. This is something special I want to share with the community.”

Castilla was raised in Bogota, Columbia, and came to the United States when she was 10 years old and, although she always had a love for art, she followed in her father’s footsteps by studying hotel management and tourism in college. After several years in that industry, she said, she felt burnt out and was in need of a creative outlet. She began to make her own products, like soap, and then taught herself to sew through YouTube videos around 2013. Channeling her childhood hobby of making jewelry, she delved into organic handmade beadwork, and soon a business was born.

“I work full-time so this business is mostly during off hours and weekends,” said Castilla, who works for a nonprofit helping mentally disabled people function in the community. “It’s awesome to have the opportunity to have the flexibility to work 9 to 5 and then come home and do what I love to do. And my husband is amazingly supportive and helps me do pretty much everything.”

Of the EXPO, Castilla said, “It’s the most awesome thing ever … it’s nice to know there’s something like this on Long Island geared toward women empowerment and creativity.” Visit her website at www.imugifts.com.

Suzette Montalvo

Suzette Montalvo in front of her Puerto Rican food truck

Suzette Montalvo, the owner and chef of a booming Bay Shore-based Puerto Rican cuisine food truck called ANEWYORICANTHING LTD., took a giant leap of faith in 2015 by quitting her office job to pursue her dream full time. And it’s paying off. Montalvo, who was born in Spanish Harlem and grew up in Queens, was always surrounded by her mother’s traditional Puerto Rican cooking and soon honed her own skills in the kitchen, eventually selling heritage-style seasonings and drinks at farmers markets in 2012.

After 20 years as a purchasing agent at a building supply company, Montalvo, at 50 years old, decided enough was enough. “I hated my job and I was always trying to figure out what I wanted to do when I grew up,” she said with a laugh. “So I took a chance on my dream. I bought a food truck and just focused on making this a business I could live off of. I know I’ve made a good decision.”

Suzette Montalvo

Montalvo even recently appeared as one of four competitors on a food truck-oriented episode of the Food Network’s “Chopped.” Although she wound up on the chopping block, Montalvo said the experience was worthwhile. “It was such a huge opportunity,” she said. “I could never have imagined that’s where I would’ve ended up. It’s all really bizarre to me how everything’s been coming about.”

Among the many delicacies Montalvo and her staff of family members — her husband and three children — serve up to the hungry public are tripleta sandwiches, rice and chicken, empanadas, yucca and coquito, “the Puerto Rican eggnog.”

“I love feeding people, it makes me happy,” Montalvo said. “People are loving what I’m bringing to the table here. And Puerto Rican food trucks on Long Island — there are no others.” For more information, visit www.anewyoricanthing.com.

Deborah Urbinati

Deborah Urbinati at her restaurant, The Fifth Season

No matter what state a restaurant’s in, there’s a good chance that Deborah Urbinati, the owner of The Fifth Season restaurant in Port Jefferson, has worked there at some point. She grew up in Lake Grove and got her first restaurant job at Red Lobster in Stony Brook when she was 18 and, soon after, became a server at Red Robin when it was still in the Smith Haven Mall.

“It really helped with my future career because I was taught in a really good way how to be efficient and work with a team,” Urbinati said of the early gig.

She eventually moved to Colorado in 1994, where she worked in restaurants and served as a bartender, was promoted to management, coordinated schedules and bounced between a number of eateries. In Maui, Hawaii, she worked at the Hard Rock Cafe and then was a bar manager in Cannon Beach, Oregon, where she met her husband, the chef at The Fifth Season.

“I’ve just picked up a lot of knowledge through my travels and now I’m able to bring it here and do what we do at the Fifth Season and it’s really cool,” she said, describing the Fifth Season’s menu as “contemporary food with American ingredients.” She runs the front of the house, which includes everything from answering the phone to organizing private events to keeping inventory of the alcohols and overall making sure the flow of service stays up to her standards.

“I’m the conductor,” she said. “I’m really good at what I do because I love what I do. I don’t ever walk into the restaurant thinking, ‘Oh my god, I own this.’ I walk into the restaurant and say, ‘Oh yeah, this is where I am and this is where I’m supposed to be.’” Visit www.thefifth-season.com.

Loretta Giuliani

Loretta Giuliani with some of the signs she makes from home.

Northport resident Loretta Giuliani once carried a badge; now she carries wooden signs. After retiring as a New York City police detective with 20 years under her belt, Giuliani rekindled her artistic roots with Just 4 You, a small, home-based business launched last year wherein she builds, sands and paints custom wooden signs, each decorated with beautiful art or quotes.

“The signs vary in different styles,” Giuliani said, specifying that some are large, others are small, and sometimes she repurposes old kitchen cabinet doors for them. “I try to recycle wood into all different kinds. I’ve also recently starting going to people’s homes and hosting parties, teaching them how to paint and helping them choose designs and create their own signs.” She also said she often builds custom pieces for weddings and baby showers. “It’s a wide gamut of everything. Anything goes.”

Giuliani grew up in Brooklyn and said she was inspired artistically by everything around her, from graffiti in the subway to exhibits in museums, but most of all by her older brother, a fellow artist.

“Art was just always around me growing up,” she said. “It was always a big interest for me.” That interest eventually landed her in New York Institute of Technology as a graphic arts major. She said a friend of hers urged her to take the police exam to gauge how she did and, after she passed it, she wound up taking the job.

While Giuliani said being on the police force was a good job, she’s happy to be exploring her creative side again. “I love meeting and speaking with the different people, getting a feel for what they want, and seeing their face when they see the finished product,” she said. For more information on Giuliani’s signs, visit www.facebook.com/just4youbyloretta.

Admission to the 17th annual Women’s EXPO, which runs from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., is free. Lunch will be served in the EXPO cafe, catered by Fifth Season Restaurant of Port Jefferson. The library is located at 101 Eastwood Blvd., Centereach. For a complete list of vendors, visit www.womensEXPOli.org. For more information call 631-585-9393, ext. 296.

All photos courtesy of MCPL

Women’s EXPO returns to Middle Country Public Library for 15th year

Liz Carroll of Wild Lizzy’s with her staff, from left, Sue Nicola; Lynn DiCarlo; Libby Carroll and Camille Sena; not pictured, Samantha Luongo. Photo by Elizabeth Malafi

By Donna Newman

Has the news got you down? Are you worried about the state of our world? The Middle Country Library Foundation offers a “stop the world-I want to get off” event guaranteed to lift your spirits and recharge your batteries. “On Thursday, October 1, from 11 to 6, our Centereach building will once again be transformed into the bustling marketplace that is the Women’s EXPO. It’s one of my favorite days at the library,” said Elizabeth Malafi, coordinator of adult services and the Miller Business Resource Center at the Middle Country Public Library.

“We’re thrilled to be hosting our 15th annual Women’s EXPO,” added Library Director Sophia Serlis-McPhillips. “Each year, new and former vendors come together to celebrate and showcase their unique talents and embody the spirit of entrepreneurship and community. We’re very thankful to our many sponsors and volunteers who help us make this day possible.”

Intermingled with the shopping is a matchless opportunity for a diverse group of women to network, support and inspire each other. “I love doing the EXPO!” said Jena Turner, owner of Breathe in Port Jefferson. “Having worked in advertising 13 years, I know how important it is to get yourself out there. The EXPO is better than a full page ad!”

Tiana Le, owner of Le Fusion, is also excited to return this year. “The EXPO gave me an opportunity to showcase my products surrounded by amazing women entrepreneurs sharing their stories of struggle and triumph,” she said. “I sold out, got positive feedback and leads.” When interviewed, the common theme expressed by EXPO vendors is passion — and the discovery of the capacity to be successful doing something they love.

Since its inception in the year 2000, the Women’s EXPO has earned a loyal following. Attendance surpassed 2,400 last year for the 83 vendors. The event showcases female Long Island entrepreneurs: artisans, importers, designers and distributors of products such as jewelry, clothing, fine art, pottery, children’s items, culturally diverse crafts, fiber art, specialty food items, gift baskets, household goods, paper products and much more. Fitting its “harvest-themed” October time slot, the EXPO provides a veritable cornucopia of unique creations and gifts.

Admission to the EXPO is free. Lunch is available for purchase from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the EXPO Café, catered by Fifth Season Restaurant of Port Jefferson. Baked goods from Sweet Street will be sold from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. The library is located at 101 Eastwood Blvd., Centereach. For a complete list of vendors, visit www.womensEXPOli.org/shop. For more information, call 631-585-9393, ext. 296.

Here are some of the women you’ll meet at this year’s EXPO:

Jena Turner realized a dream when she opened her shop on East Main Street in Port Jefferson Village in 2006. The previous year had brought a pair of tragedies. Her father, “an accomplished man [who] built everything from scratch – houses, boats, cars, and his last project – his airplane,” died during the plane’s inaugural flight. Seven months later, she lost her brother. An incident at work following the second loss propelled her into action to sign a lease. She had prepared herself for the business by becoming a Certified Yoga Teacher and studying Reiki (hands-on healing).

Jena Turner at her shop, Breathe, in Port Jefferson. Photo by Amber Sroka
Jena Turner at her shop, Breathe, in Port Jefferson. Photo by Amber Sroka

In tribute to her late father, Turner named the store “Breathe,” which summed up his philosophy of life. Given its stated mission “to help others understand their gifts and full potential,” Breathe is more than just a store, and Turner wears many hats: “I am the owner,” she said, “and with that, I am the buyer, the manager, the bookkeeper, the healer, the teacher, the reader, the unpacker, the shipper, the banker, and the cleaning lady!”

She stocks an assortment of jewelry, clothing, candles, home accessories, and spiritual items, and also offers meditation, yoga, reiki, psychic readings and other workshops. Visit www.breatheinspiringgifts.com for more information.

Liz Carroll spent her life serving others. She raised three children on her own while working for the Town of Oyster Bay in a succession of increasingly responsible jobs. “I’m holding on to my job for now,” she said, “as I’ve worked hard to be where I am, and still have children who depend on me.”

But when her children were in college, she began thinking. “I wanted to do something for myself that would be productive, something where I could earn extra money and, of course, something that makes people happy!”

Carroll turned her signature cookie, one she had always made for family and friends, into a gourmet cookie line and created “Wild Lizzy’s.” At first, the cookies sold via word-of-mouth, at street fairs and other events, and at a few specialty stores. Soon they began winning prestigious awards.

“I always offer samples,” said Carroll, “and the reaction is always ‘Oh, my God!’ So now I have an OMG bell. When you say it, you ring it!”

Last September, the bell attracted a customer with a link to QVC and plans are now underway to take Wild Lizzy’s to the TV shopping network. She ships nationwide, due to customer demand.

Visit her website at www.wildlizzys.com.

Jackie Maloney discovered her passion early and parlayed it into a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Maryland Institute College of Art. “One of the main reasons I chose MICA was their dedication to making sure artists could actually make careers with their degrees. In my degree program, we all took a class dedicated strictly to business, taught by a successful/working art rep.” She likes that she can live and work at the beach, yet have clients all over the world, that she can work for different ‘bosses’ while being her own boss.

Jackie Maloney with some of her artwork. Photo by Amber Sroka
Jackie Maloney with some of her artwork. Photo by Amber Sroka

In truth, the career she describes is her dream job. “Every day is different,” she said. “An average day in the studio, I could spend the morning painting the instructions for baking an apple pie, the afternoon Googling locations to complete a custom map for a wedding gift, and then finish the day unloading/loading my kiln. I get to travel all over and meet tons of people. Then I get to retreat into the peace of my quiet studio to create.” In addition to contract work for independent projects, she exhibits her art at outdoor arts and crafts fairs and has a shop in the online marketplace Etsy. Visit her website: www.jackiemaloney.com.

Tiana Le began a poem with the words, “We left during the fall of Saigon in 1975, blessed that we were alive.” Her family emigrated to the United States and eventually settled in Flushing. When it came time for Le to train for a career, her parents steered her toward information technology – a good job in great demand. She began a career in IT.

Tiana Le, owner of Le Fusion. Photo by Sal DiVincenzo
Tiana Le, owner of Le Fusion. Photo by Sal DiVincenzo

Later, her mother was diagnosed with cancer soon after retirement. “It was the hardest time of my life,” Le said, “caring for my Mom and watching her wither away. She was my top priority, and when she expired I needed time to recoup and recharge. I came out stronger, with a greater appreciation of life – and the emotional and physical freedom to pursue my passion.”

That passion is food as related to her Vietnamese heritage. In May 2014, she launched “Le Fusion,” thinking “Why not combine the best of both worlds? East and West!” Her menu items are healthy, handmade, all natural, and baked. “Vietnamese foods are light and refreshing, with exotic herbs,” she said, adding, “The French-influenced dishes are my all-time favorites.”

Her cuisine is created at the Stony Brook University Incubator in Calverton and marketed through the Port Jefferson Farmer’s Market, scheduled tastings at Whole Foods, and the Le Fusion website: www.lefusion.co.

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