This series examining developments in local business is underwritten by the Howard County Economic Development Authority. The mission of the Howard County Economic Development Authority is to promote economic growth and stability in Howard County by supporting existing businesses, attracting targeted new businesses, and attracting corporate and/or regional headquarters; to serve as the liaison between public and private economic development and planning organizations; and to recommend policies to County government that support the achievement of planned economic goals.
These articles are written independently, with no outside editorial control, by Mark R. Smith, Senior Writer.
Boyd Cru Wines, Savage Mill
It’s been an eventful year-plus for Jon’ll and Matthew Boyd, the owners of Boyd Cru Wines. After learning their new trade at the Hosmer Winery in the Finger Lakes Region of New York, they started operating out of a wine production facility in Poolesville in April 2023, and soon thereafter were looking for a location to sell their first release.
What came next? Opening a pop-up in Savage Mill, “because of its feel and because we’ve attracted people from various parts of central Maryland,” she said. “We’re looking to become a local draw, so it’s important to build our community while we decide where to open a tasting room.”
But opening the pop-up was an important first step, because “we want to be able to offer that [experience] to other small businesses,” said Boyd. “That step, and investing about $30,000 from our savings, is what’s led us to enough early success. While we’re not sure about our permanent location, we like the energy and support we’ve received in Howard County.”
While moving toward their second release which is set for February, it seems like they’ve had ample on-the-job training. “Sometimes building the plane on the way up,” she said, “is a good thing.”
Earth Tribe, Ellicott City
Meagan Braganca has always used her career to address her environmental concerns. Today, the former marketing director with Columbia-based Aurora Energy is approaching the green market through the retail industry at her just-opened clothing store in downtown Ellicott City, Earth Tribe.
Braganca said she actually opened her new clothing and accessory shop, which is located at the foot of Main Street, “about six months earlier” than she’d planned to. But when the 250-square-foot space, formerly the Simply The Best Boutique, became available, she knew it was time to strike.
So onward and upward she went, spending “a few thousand dollars” on eco-friendly, sustainable offerings such as women’s organic clothing, as well as skin care items, jewelry and a smattering of home goods.
“I order most of my inventory, which is mostly organic cotton clothing like sweaters, denim jeans and recycled cotton T-shirts, from Pact, Known Supply, Happy Earth and Fabina,” said Braganca, though I always make room for some selections from local designers, too.”
The next part of the game plan of Braganca, a former chair of the Sierra Club Howard County, extends beyond her product selection. “We plan to donate a portion of our sales,” she said, “to reforestation organizations such as Trillion Trees and SeaTrees.”
30% revenue rise
St. John’s Jewelers, Ellicott City
Staying in business for 50 years can occur due to a variety of reasons and that’s the case at St. John’s Jewelers, in Ellicott City. Its high points include “a 30% rise in revenues during the past three years,” said Owner Linda Miller.
The shop offers a variety of services, including sales, appraisals, design work, sizing and repair, “but what’s exploded in recent years is the bridal sector. We didn’t used to be that big in engagement rings and wedding bands,” said Miller, “but many young people have stopped going to malls as much and like to support small businesses like ours.”
Another boost has come from the workforce, from the government and otherwise, who can now work at least a hybrid schedule and thus can swing by the shop on Route 40 during the day. “That’s a big deal when your store has always closed on weekdays by 6 p.m.,” she said.
But it’s more than that. “Our business is about the multigenerational relationships and from our social media posts we see that people still want that connection, especially when they’re spending sizable amounts of money,” Miller said. “Not only do they buy new jewelry, but they also need older items repaired and family jewelry redesigned.”
Caption: St. John’s Jewelers Owner Linda Miller is ready to turn the day-to-day operations of the business over to her daughter Nicolette Miller. Photo: Linda Miller
Matt DeSarno retired as head of Dallas field office of the FBI in October 2022. The next month, he and Jesse FitzGibbon founded Verfico with a mission: to create software that would stem employee theft in the construction industry.
DeSarno, the CEO; and FitzGibbon, the chief technical officer, created the product at the Maryland Innovation Center. “It provides transparency and accountability in construction environments for general contractors, property owners and developers,” said DeSarno. “They can mitigate risk because it keeps subcontractors in compliance with state and federal labor and wage laws.
“For instance, if too many workers are classified as independent contractors, they may not be getting paid properly,” DeSarno said. “Their employers can’t buy insurance due to employee wage theft issues and don’t want to get sued. That’s where we come in.”
This concept arose when DeSarno’s brother, Nick, owner of Rock Spring Contracting, in Kensington, got hit with a lawsuit concerning the issue; had Verfico been available at that point, the legal issue could have been prevented.
“Nick said if we re-engineered the software, we could market it,” said DeSarno. “We’ve sold it to four general contractors and a ‘mid-sized city’ in North Texas,” Matt DeSarno said, while predicting “revenues will reach $20,000 monthly” by the end of this year.
Goal of 500 members
Mayweather Boxing & Fitness, Columbia
When Kristin “Coach K” Nabor came on board in late May at the new Mayweather Boxing & Fitness facility in Columbia’s Merriweather District, the professional and amateur boxing coach approached the gig as a part-time affair.
However, just a few weeks later, she was not only the head instructor, but general manager, too. Nabor’s focus now is building the franchise, which already boasts 200 members ― “95% of whom are beginners,” she said ― who pay up to $180 per month, around her team of six employees. She thinks that’ll be fairly easy to do, given the synergies that abound around the 2,000-square-foot space at 6000 Merriweather Drive.
“The energy around Merriweather Post Pavilion and the District keeps people moving around this part of town,” said Nabor. “The Howard Hughes Corp. collaborates with the community and the businesses, so we all support each other.”
That starts with the neighborhood businesses. “We have clients who are involved with YogaSix, which is right next door, and Toastique,” she said, “and our members are not only interested in their own results. We celebrate each other because that’s how this community is. I’m hopeful that will help us reach our goal of 500 members by this time next year.”
A message from Howard County Economic Development Authority
HCEDA’s Collateral Assistance Fund
Unlock growth for your small business with the Howard County Economic Development Authority’s (HCEDA) Catalyst Loan Fund. This locally managed capital source supports small, growth-oriented businesses, fostering job creation and private sector investment.
To empower minority-owned enterprises facing collateral challenges, the Collateral Assistance Fund is also available, providing eligible businesses—including women-owned, U.S. veteran-owned, and socially disadvantaged groups—access to HCEDA Catalyst loans they would otherwise not qualify for due to insufficient collateral.
With a cap at $100,000, the Collateral Assistance Fund is a strategic boost, bridging the financial gap and propelling your business towards success. Seize the opportunity to thrive with HCEDA’s Catalyst Loan Fund and its innovative Collateral Assistance Fund.
To learn more about the Collateral Assistance Fund: https://hceda.org/business-support/catalyst-loans/collateral-assistance-fund/