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Women-owned businesses create welcoming spaces for Chapel Hill-Carrboro community

Paula Gilland, the owner and CEO of Purple Bowl, an eatery in downtown Chapel Hill, has run the restaurant since its inception. She came up with the idea to bring California-style açaí to Chapel Hill in 2017.

Paula Gilland has a saying in her kitchen: "Here's to good women. May we be them, may we know them, may we raise them."

Gilland opened The Purple Bowl — an açaí and smoothie shop — in 2017 and was excited to build a business that was community-based.

“As a woman that had raised kids and been a nurse, I saw the value of having a community-based place where we would have an eclectic group of workers, mixed ages, blended with the students and mixed abilities,” she said. 

Paula Gilland, the owner and CEO of Purple Bowl, jokes with an employee on March 28, 2023 in Chapel Hill, N.C. She came up with the idea to bring California-style açaí to Chapel Hill in 2017 and has run the place since its inception.


Purple Bowl is just one of several women-operated small businesses in the Chapel Hill and Carrboro communities that residents can support during Women's History Month.

Gilland said the fact that The Purple Bowl is female-run has contributed to the business’s mission to empower women.

“We tried to make decisions early on in the business to support and nurture women,” she said. "So, when we’ve hired women, if they’ve needed to take a maternity leave, we’ve helped cover that — which is really rare in the food industry.”

An employee at The Purple Bowl, UNC senior Emily Saunders, said she has enjoyed working for a local, woman-led business where she feels that her bosses genuinely care about her and her co-workers’ wellbeing.

“I really like having female bosses, and Paula especially — I love her,” Saunders said.

The artisan cooperative WomanCraft Gifts on Franklin Street comprises 25 majority-women member artists who own and manage the business and create products, including decorative glass, pottery, handcrafted jewelry and sculptures.

Janie Galloway, a member of WomanCraft Gifts and the co-chairperson of its marketing committee, said the business began during the 1970s and was inspired by the women’s rights movement that was taking place at the time. 

“Back in 1973, a group of women got together and decided that they wanted to join forces to provide an outlet for their creativity, to earn a little bit of money and to show some independence, and it was basically a women-supporting-women idea,” she said.

As the business has continued to expand over its 50-year history, Galloway said WomanCraft Gifts has managed to keep providing a communal space for its members to come together and display their work. 

Another woman-owned business is the custom tattoo parlor Ascension Tattoo on North Columbia Street. 

Owner Meghan Magdalene, who previously worked in real estate and lending, said she started tattooing while helping a friend run his tattoo business.

“I really was looking to kind of get out of what I was doing, anyhow,” she said. “It wasn’t really feeding me on a deep level.” 

Magdalene said they enjoy tattooing because of the artistry-centered, intimate experience the work offers, as well as her ability to earn a living off of creativity.

“I do enjoy working with people and with tattooing, it’s such an interesting dynamic,” Magdalene said. “I find it just a personal, life-changing — certainly appearance-changing — experience."

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According to Magdalene, Ascension Tattoo's success is partly due to the encouraging, comforting space they try to cultivate.

“It’s really important to all of my artists and me that we’re offering people a really genuine and positive and safe experience where they feel like they’ve been listened to, they feel like they’ve been educated on things,” Magdalene said. 

She thinks Ascension Tattoo's female ownership is part of what makes the space so inviting for its clientele.

“I do business differently than some of the alternatives,” Magdalene said. “I just think women, queer-owned, POC-owned spaces just tend to operate a little differently.”


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