Open for business

By Terri Brown

Gather NC, a retail store featuring North Carolina artisans and producers, will have its grand opening next month. Its founder, Cheryl Crist, thanks Central Carolina Community College’s Small Business Center and its local partners for providing the basics of running a small business.

Gather NC has been a dream for Crist, inspired by her appreciation for the Tar Heel State’s natural beauty and the exceptional craftsmanship found within its communities. After relocating to North Carolina in 2021, she embarked on exploring all of the state’s stunning parks within a year. Along her journey, she discovered the wealth of locally made treasures in quaint towns and was captivated by their quality compared to mass-produced items.

Gather NC will offer an expansive array of North Carolina-based products. The store’s curated selection will feature a diverse range of items, including foods, eco-friendly home care products, personal care items, fine wines, craft beers and stylish apparel. Crist’s commitment to fostering the local creative community will also be evident, as Gather NC showcases artwork from local artists, encompassing jewelry, paintings and woodwork.

Crist believes in the importance of supporting locally made and sourced goods.

“We often talk about shopping locally, but I want to take it a step further with shopping locally made,” she said. “Gather NC is a place where you can discover and embrace the true essence of North Carolina through its craftsmanship and creativity.”

Learning the basics

Crist’s journey to opening Gather NC was empowered by her participation in the RISE Program last March. This business startup program, presented by CCCC’s Small Business Center, Downtown Sanford, Inc., and the Sanford Area Growth Alliance Chamber of Commerce, not only awarded Crist a $5,000 grant but also provided her with essential tools and knowledge to bring her vision to life.

RISE (Real Investment in Sanford Entrepreneurs), which is free of charge, helps aspiring entrepreneurs — those who are thinking of starting their own business or those who have been in business for less than two years — with developing a business plan, gaining insight for financing and banking options, understanding legal references, and an overview of bookkeeping and taxes.

The eight-class program has helped other budding local entrepreneurs who were starting their own businesses focused on catering, baked sweets, book sales, fashion, signage and apparel, printing, yoga and fire sprinkler installation.

Crist and the other RISE grant winners and participants are proof that the collaboration between CCCC’s Small Business Center and Downtown Sanford, Inc. to create the program was needed, said Susan Gomez, director of the Sanford Area Growth Alliance Chamber of Commerce.

“The RISE program has benefited the economic development of our town as well as pushed forth the entrepreneurial spirit of our citizens,” she said.

Crist said her experience in RISE was a “game-changer in more ways than one. It helped me delve deep into creating a solid business plan, kept me on track, and introduced me to a network of experts and fellow entrepreneurs.”

This article was originally published in CC Daily.

Terri Brown

is director of the Small Business Center at Central Carolina Community College in North Carolina.