2020 marks a milestone in history – it’s been 100 years since women won the right to vote. And that marker hasn’t gone unnoticed by women business owners in the Great Rivers & Routes region of southwest Illinois.

“Women won the right to vote 100 years ago but there is a lot left that needs to happen,” says Lisa Ybarra, owner of Chavas Mexican Grill in Edwardsville. Ybarra left the corporate world seven years ago to open her own business in Edwardsville. That journey has been fulfilling and, in some ways, more difficult than she imagined.

Lisa Ybarra of Chava's

Lisa Ybarra of Chava's Mexican Grill serves up a signature margarita at her Edwardsville restaurant.

“I was ready to do something else with my life,” Ybarra muses while sitting in her brightly decorated downtown Edwardsville restaurant. The aromas of grilled meat and vegetables lingers in the air and the sound of sizzling fajitas served to customers adds to the atmosphere as Ybarra adds, “Owning my own restaurant has been harder in some ways than I had thought. There is an assumption about a woman’s inability to run a business by herself. So you have to be smarter and realize there is the potential for prejudice against women.”

Ybarra has solidified her place in the Edwardsville business community and works to mentor other women who are interested in starting their own business. Hearing from other women who have made it in the world of small business ownership is meaningful, she notes.

“I always ask, ‘how can I help other women’,” she says. “And I tell people women just need to keep their foot on the gas and they will be fine. This is a good time to be a business owner and a good time to be a woman business owner. There is nothing we can’t do. We just have to push the envelope a little bit.”

Cathy Gross of Bluff City Grill

Cathy Gross of Bluff City Grill in Alton

Alton restaurant owner Cathy Gross has dreamed of owning her own business since she was 16. Her dream came true 6 ½ years ago when she opened Bluff City Grill.

“I always thought I would own a small bar but Bluff City Grill turned out to be much larger than that,” she says. When she opened the restaurant, it was housed in a smaller building that she leased. An opportunity came up to purchase the former Eagle Lodge on Broadway Street in Alton and Gross jumped at the opportunity. That decision opened up a wider world for the business and Gross.

“I’ve learned a lot from other women in business like Karen Baker Brncic (Alton Marina) and others,” Gross notes. “I think to be successful, as a woman in business, you have to lead by example. People have so much more respect for you if you work with them.”

Morrison's Irish Pub, located in the heart of Alton's entertainment district, is owned by Mary and Lisa Morrison along with their daughter Katie. The three women established the pub five years ago as they followed their dream of owning a business.

Briar Rose in Litchfield

The Briar Rose, a consignment store in downtown Litchfield, IL is a woman owned small business

For Danell Fogle, owner of Briar Rose in downtown Litchfield, being the owner of a business seem like a natural step. She had worked for a small electrical business owned by a husband and wife team. It was there she learned the ropes and prepared to become a business owner herself. Fogle bought Briar Rose, a consignment shop that also features local crafters and producers, six years ago. Over that time, she has gone on to purchase a 14,---square-foot historic building in the city to house her business. She has also expanded the number of consigners in the shop to over 3,000.

“If a woman wants to own her own business I would encourage them to do it,” Fogle says. “If someone has a dream, to do it, I would tell them to go ahead.”

Litchfield is home to several woman owned businesses including the historic Jubelt’s Bakery and Café, located on Route 66; Phyllbena’s, a vendor/consignment shop; and MyFormals and Leona and Friends, a wedding and formal dress shop located alongside a trendy clothing boutique.