Boss Women: Highlighting businesswomen in Eau Claire

Becca Cooke of Red’s Mercantile uses her business to create opportunity for other aspiring businesswomen

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Taylor Reisdorf

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Boss Women: Highlighting businesswomen in Eau Claire

Photo by Savannah Reeves

Photo by Savannah Reeves

Photo by Savannah Reeves

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Eau Claire’s culture is, and has been, evolving. The city — especially its downtown — looks entirely different now than it did 10, even five, years ago.

The community-oriented businesses and landmarks at the forefront of this cultural revolution — like Volume One and Phoenix Park — started sprouting up in 2003. Similar forward-thinking establishments have followed suit and planted roots in Eau Claire.

Becca Cooke, owner of Red’s Mercantile, noticed Eau Claire’s “revitalization” upon her return in 2014 — after working for a US Congressman in Palm Springs, Calif. — and was inspired to establish a business of her own.

“I wanted to be a part of that energy,” Cooke said.

Cooke said her dream of business ownership was realized when she was 16 years old, working as a waitress. The fast-paced environment of restaurants intrigued her, and she spent a lot of time in L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library studying restaurant magazines.

After high school, Cooke strayed from the restaurant industry and pursued a degree in both marketing and public relations. When it came time for her to establish a business of her own, Cooke decided a “mindful” retail store would best suit Eau Claire’s downtown.

Once the decision was made, things progressed quickly, Cooke said. The location — 224 N Dewey St. — was chosen in July 2015, and the lease was signed in August. Then the renovations began. By Nov. 6, 2015, Red’s Mercantile was up-and-running.

While she had no retail experience at that point, Cooke said her business education and work in campaign finance helped when it came to managing budgets.

“It was interesting starting to learn the nuances of retail,” Cooke said. “It’s not as easy as you think.”

Now, almost three years after opening, Red’s Mercantile is a well-established, Scandinavian heritage-inspired, women’s lifestyle shop. It sells products — women’s clothing, home goods, jewelry and more — that are simple, timeless, functional and American-made.

“Our vision isn’t just to sell more ‘stuff,’ but to create a gathering place for women in the Chippewa Valley,” Cooke said. “Red’s hosts poetry readings, workshops, yoga, rallies and more to connect women in authentic ways.”

One aspect of Red’s Mercantile that exemplifies Cooke’s desire for Red’s Mercantile to go beyond simply selling “stuff” — to empower, connect and support women — is the Red Letter Grant.

The Red Letter Grant, which was founded on the shop’s one-year anniversary, awards two female entrepreneurs each year with a sum of start-up capital. Funding for the Red Letter started with 15 percent of store sales going towards the grant, Cooke said.

The program has evolved into an entity of its own — functioning independently from Red’s Mercantile, Cooke said. Its reach has expanded beyond the Chippewa Valley and various sponsors have joined in on the action.

Reba Krueger, the Red Letter Grant Director, started working with Cooke and Red’s Mercantile in April. Krueger said she was drawn to Cooke’s passion as well as her women-focused, fast-paced and “take-it-all-on” work ethic.

Krueger said she’d describe the Red Letter Grant as a growing community that offers knowledge and mentorship to eager female entrepreneurs.

“Working with and serving all these women is energizing,” Krueger said. “The vision, passion and hard work the women I get to meet share with us is an irresistible call to action and to be better. I feel so much pride for what women in our state are accomplishing together and on their own.”

Cooke said she loves being a business owner because of the freedom it allots. Eau Claire offers entrepreneurial opportunity because of its low living cost and massive web of city-wide support, Cooke said. Cooke encourages anyone interested in business ownership to not wait.

“Time waits for no one,” Cooke said. “Do it now.”

Red’s Mercantile is thriving, Cooke said. Its reach spans throughout the Chippewa Valley and will soon go further, as Red’s Mercantile will be opening four new locations this fall.

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