“We really stick together. I don’t feel like I’m out there on my own. We’re doing what we love, getting by, and trying to have a good time.”
Since opening her thrift-clothing cart ‘Yours’, every Saturday has become ‘take your daughter to work day’ for Sonya Petroff. That suits her just fine.
“It’s good for [Hailey] to see me work for myself,” says Sonya. “It opens her eyes to her own potential. I talked about [Yours] for two years before it happened. For her to see me keep going through some hard times is important. That’s a positive example for her.”
Among those ‘hard times,’ Sonya lists self-doubt fueled by a lack of knowledge about how to start a business, finding the time to prepare, and saving up for opening expenses. “As a single, working parent, a storefront would have been impossible to afford while launching this business,” says Sonya. “The idea of opening a cart made it a possibility.”
Located in a pod of carts on 52nd and SE Foster, Yours blends Portland’s food-cart scene with Sonya’s passion for mining thrift stores’ collections of household treasures and unique, vintage clothing for men, women, and children. Between the 1966 Silver Streak trailer and the racks arranged in front, customers and curiosity seekers can peruse the product of Sonya’s love for locating the hard-to-find and one-of-a-kind.
“When I first had the idea I figured, ‘If the carts can sell food, why can’t I sell stuff?!’ Ever since then, I’ve been stockpiling; thank goodness our home has good storage space! Even Hailey’s room was filling up with boxes. We were really happy when we finally got to move most everything into Yours.”
Sonya worked hard to get to that proud moment. Without any entrepreneurs in her family, she didn’t know about the planning and preparation needed to launch a successful business. Furthermore, while her regular job made ends meet, she felt like she could never save enough to cover all of her opening expenses. Then, a friend told her about Mercy Corps NW’s Individual Development Account (IDA) matching grant program and Business Foundations course.
“For someone who could only save one to two thousand dollars, the IDA opened the door,” Sonya recalls. “And their Foundations course helped me through a ton of things I had not anticipated. I needed MCNW to help me with my business plan, taking care of all the paperwork, anticipating taxes, and all the other details of starting a business.”
Although she speaks with some authority now, Sonya admits, “The day I started at MCNW, I thought I was going to quit. They were encouraging, but they were also honest. They told us, ‘Starting your own business isn’t easy. It’s a lot of money. You have lots to figure out.’ I drew encouragement from the other people in class. We supported each other… I stuck through every class and got more confident every week going through all the steps.”
Some of that confidence is bound to rub off on Sonya’s 10-year-old daughter turned social-media assistant, “When Hailey gets older, she’ll have some excellent experience. Maybe she’ll try a business for herself. “
Although she has completed MCNW’s course, Sonya’s enthusiasm for community remains strong. For her, one of the most rewarding parts of running her own business is “Being a part of the community. Not just people who live nearby, but being a part of a food cart pod. We really stick together. I don’t feel like I’m out there on my own. We’re doing what we love, getting by, and trying to have a good time.”