Andrea Skirpan began restoring furniture as a hobby in 2010. After selling her pieces online and at local antique malls for a few years, she realized she wanted a physical space to directly engage with clients and properly display her items. She found that other local entrepreneurs were similarly seeking a physical location to sell their work and had the idea to establish a collective space where local vendors could come together and sell their goods year-round.
In August 2017, Skirpan began to search for a building that could house such a facility and came across the former site of Brackbill’s Furniture in downtown Bellefonte, PA. The site had been for sale for several years and needed significant repair, but Andrea knew that with help from her husband Brian Bonner, a licensed civil engineer, they could tackle the project.
That September, before purchasing the building, Skirpan attended the Penn State SBDC’s First Steps to Small Business Success workshop to learn about operating a business. The workshop gave her the confidence to move forward, and soon after Andrea connected with Al Butler of SCORE, a commercial real estate specialist, for support negotiating the sale of the building. Andrea and Brian also worked with SBDC Business Consultant John Peterson to develop a formal business plan and apply for a commercial loan.
With a secured loan from Penn State Federal Credit Union, the couple closed on the building in July 2018 and began two years of extensive renovations. They named the marketplace Belle Mercantile and set a goal of opening in Spring 2020. But when the pandemic delayed their plans, they pushed back the opening date and utilized the time to establish a website, secure the appropriate permits, and identify vendors. In September of 2020, they opened their doors to customers.
“Andrea and Brian have built a solid business plan and executed it to support the Bellefonte community by restoring a historic storefront and creating new jobs,” says Peterson. “This is not just a business but a retail hub for other local small/micro businesses to sell their goods and services.”
Opening a business during a global pandemic was no easy feat, but with continued consulting from Peterson and additional support from Business Consultant Elizabeth Hay, who provided training on QuickBooks accounting tools, Belle Mercantile thrived.
“We wouldn’t have had the confidence to take on this project if we didn’t know there was someone there to help,” said Andrea. “The greatest benefit of working with the SBDC was the confidence a business advisor gave me to take on such a big project.”
As the business continues to acquire new vendors and customers, Andrea and Brian looks to finish the rest of the building; they hope to install a small commercial kitchen and community space that can host classes for creatives and entrepreneurs. The collective space has become an asset to the Bellefonte community, and shoppers and artisans alike are grateful for Andrea’s vision.