In this industry, there are two types of people: the ones you get along with and the ones you pretend to. That may sound harsh, but there's definitely a sigh-of-relief moment when you realize your blind date business meeting is someone you'd actually choose to hang out with. Such was the case when I met my Women Direct agent, Neesa Peterson, in person (finally!) at Balthazar for breakfast however many years ago. Needless to say, we hit it off.
At each subsequent rendezvous, we talked (a little) about business, but more about what we'd do if, one day, the fashion industry imploded and we found our stylish selves unemployed. For me, it was off to work at an animal shelter; for Neesa, it was opening her own business. At the next lunch, she told me she thought it would be a Sno-Ball pop-up (the girl is from New Orleans, these things are HUGE down there). Drinks a few months later revealed a potential location, name and logo. And finally, I got the news that she was leaving the modeling world forever and opening her own shop in the West Village.
Imperial Woodpecker opened to rave reviews from Grub Street, Metromix and Village Voice, among others; now, as summer draws to a close and IW prepares to shutter its doors for the season, I caught up with one of my most inspiring friends to find out if it was all worth it.
Julie Bensman: Describe your day before and after Imperial Woodpecker.
Neesa Peterson: When I worked at the agency, I had to get up a lot earlier! Now, I start my day late morning and go until midnight. I'm on my feet all day long and love it, running on pure adrenaline and passion. At the agency, I would get in at 9 AM, check my emails, send out job packages, figure out any flights for girls, re-organize their portfolios, put options on the chart, push options on the chart and just make sure each girl was working. Now, my job consists of talking to people all day about Sno-Balls! It really brings so much joy to my life. I joke about how all my boyfriends now are under the age of 8 or over the age of 80, because I have a lot of cute little boys blowing me kisses, thanking me for setting up a sugar shack near their school, or retired old men walking around telling me I am the "Entrepreneur of the Year!" It's pretty entertaining to host the people of New York in my shop.
JB: What inspired you to take such a professional leap of faith?
NP: I realized I had attributes that weren't being exercised at the agency, like my love for meeting new people, food, and being able to have conversations with strangers ten hours a day. I also wanted to be in an environment with good music, happy decor, and good food. Nice people seem to follow.
JB: What has been the most enjoyable and challenging aspects of opening your own business?
NP: The hardest part is having to be there constantly, but it's also brought a level of responsibility that I feel more people should experience. I love when I have kids asking me all about the Sno-Ball, the machine and how it all works. I love seeing couples dance when I have live music on Sundays. I had a woman cry over a Spearmint Sno-Ball because it reminded her of when she was a child. Those are the things that make me most happy.
JB: What's next for you?
NP: I'm going to start a New Orleans style Beignet Cafe. I want to offer other famous treats from the city, like gumbo, jambalaya, po-boys, and mufalettas. Of course, I'll bring Sno-Balls back in the summertime. I just hope that I don't weigh 300 pounds by the time my career is over!
What can I say? You can take the girl out of the industry but not the industry out of the girl…
photo: Sophie Elgort