New MAP class graduates from small-business training program in Orleans County

Photos by Ginny Kropf: Graduates of the spring 2023 Microenterprise Assistance Program pose for a picture with instructors and mentors. Seated, from left, are Linda Aguirre, Nicole Brown, Kelly Fischer, Terri Page Loessl, mentor Jon Costello and program manager Diane Blanchard. Standing, from left, are mentor Sam Campanella, Doris Vidal, Xhezide Bela, Don Greenough and County Legislator John Fitzak. Not pictured is former county legislator Ken DeRoller and graduates Leann Sample and David Robinson.

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 15 June 2023 at 9:06 am

ALBION – The spring 2023 Microenterprise Assistance Program graduated nine entrepreneurs Tuesday night at the Lockstone, bringing the total number of graduates to 576 since the program started about 25 years ago.

MAP manager Diane Blanchard said she has given out nearly $1 million in grants to 50 start-up businesses since 2010.

Blanchard also announced she will be retiring in September, and no class will be held in the fall while she trains her successor. The new program manager will be announced in the near future.

“I’ve met so many people and made so many friends in the last 20 years,” Blanchard said. “But it was time to retire.”

She said she will miss seeing the new entrepreneurs get their dreams off the ground, but she is going to stay in touch.

Former county legislator Ken DeRoller was on the board when MAP was started in 1999 by the Orleans Economic Development Agency. He praised Blanchard for the work she has done with the program.

“She’s aggressive and she cares about people,” he said.

(Left) Former county legislator Ken DeRoller congratulates MAP leader Diane Blanchard on announcement of her retirement in September. She has led the program for nearly 20 years. (Right) Diego Russell, who graduated from MAP last year, shared his story of starting his own business at the age of 21 and having employees working for him.

DeRoller said how difficult it is to start a new business. He said out of the 576 who went through the Microenterprise Assistance Program, only 168 are still in business.

“Covid knocked the living daylights out of a lot businesses,” he said.

He said what a big impact small businesses make in the county with their unique ideas, such as dog walking, lawn services or crafting. Fifty percent of businesses fail without a business plan, and making a business plan is one of the important things taught in the MAP, along with marketing, he said. He added his encouragement to the graduates who chose to go into business in Orleans County, in light of school enrollment dropping and the population shrinking to about 38,000.

Spring graduates and their businesses are Linda Aguirre, crafter; Xhezide Bela, AN Homes; Nicole Brown, cat café/healing center; Kelly Fischer, Necka’s treasurers; Donald Greenough, business consultant/graphic designer; Terri Loessl, Doggie Day Care; David Robinson, land maintenance; Leann Sample, cleaning services; and Doris Vidal, Serenity Spa and Holistic Center.

Each graduate in attendance shared their business plan and goals for their new endeavor.

One was Donald Greenough who will provide business consulting and graphic design to new businesses at an affordable price. He also does branding, marketing, logo development, web development and social media.

Nicole Brown shared her struggles with two cancer scares and depression. She always liked helping others and after a life coach helped her get her life back, she decided to combine her love of cats and people into a Cat Cafe and Healing Center.

Terri Loessl will offer Doggie Day Care at her facility on Gaines Basin Road. She will dog sit, train dogs to play with other dogs and offer boarding. There is no other service like that in the county, she said.

Doris Vidal has 15 years experience in a spa and holistic healing. She and her husband Lionel Heydel have purchased the building at 438 West Ave. in Albion, where she opened Serenity Spa and Holistic Center on June 1. She provides holistic healing for males and female, along with rejuvenation and massages in a relaxing and serene setting, she said. She also offers yoga and Tai Chi.

Kelly Fischer has a store at 18 East Bank St., where her business Necka’s Treasurers buys and sells overstock merchandise.

“You never know what you’ll find here,” she said. “We sell everything at 50 percent of what the big box stores charge.”

Right now she has an abundance of blankets, sheets, pillows and small furnishings. She is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

Fischer got into the business because her daughter runs a similar one in Kentucky and has done very well at it.

Spring graduates of the 2023 Microenterprise Assistance Program received their diplomas Tuesday night in a ceremony at Lockstone. From left are Terri Page Loessl, Don Greenough, Xhezide Bela, Nicole Brown, Kelly Fischer, Linda Aguirre and Doris Vidal.

Xhezide Bela and her husband Arden Fazliu demonstrated their new product, a microfiber towel that removes all smudges from glass surfaces. They are washable, she said, but the one she has been using for nine months has not been washed and is still doing a good job. Their business is AN Homes and towels can be purchased online.

Linda Aguirre hopes to start a creative arts business, selling art prints, postcards, greeting cards, bookmarkers and tee shirts. She will be selling her merchandise online.

Several alumni of MAP have kept in touch with classes since they graduated, coming back to share their successes with new classes. One graduate, Dorothy Daniels, has joined the program as a teacher.

Lynn Palmer has returned several times to share how MAP helped her start her Upscale Overstock business in Albion and a grant enabled her to buy added merchandise.

Margie Steffen opened a beauty parlor, Studio 11, at 21 East Bank St., after graduating from the spring 2021 MAP class. A grant allowed her to buy a barber chair and expand into men’s haircutting.

Dan Conrad has shared his business success with several MAP classes. He opened his Toyz n Kandy store on the corner of Platt and Bank streets in Albion and is in the process of moving to a bigger store next to 39 Problems on Main Street. He has also leased space in the newly renovated Webber Hotel in Lyndonville and will open a second store there.

“I graduated in the Fall 2021 class and received a $20,000 grant,” Conrad said. “I’ve been expanding ever since. Dorothy and Diane are the best people a business person could know. I still call them every week.”

Diego Russell, who graduated from the program last year, shared his success story Tuesday night.

“I am honored and pleased to be here,” he said. “I went through MAP and got a grant, which gave me all I needed to start my lawn care business. I’m 21 and now have employees working for me. I used to work at jobs like Walmart and Door Dash, and now I’m running my own business and hope to have another and another.”