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It’s Saturday morning and while most of downtown Birmingham is still waking up, Pepper Place District is a few steps ahead. One hundred white tents line the couple blocks between 2nd and 3rd Avenues South and 28th and 29th Streets. Live folk music provides the soundtrack to a bustling farmers market where thousands of people meet to buy the area’s freshest bounty and a variety of locally made goods.
While the farmers market is Pepper Place’s crown jewel, the thriving downtown district’s history dates to well before the creation of the market—and its potential stretches far beyond. Pepper Place’s revitalization began in 1988 with a vision to turn a couple blocks of abandoned warehouse space into a thriving downtown hub. The farmers market was founded twelve years later, and today, Pepper Place encompasses 350,000 square feet of retail, restaurants, offices, and workshop space. In 2019, Pepper Place received official designation as a Birmingham Entertainment District, which allows businesses to sell alcohol to be consumed off-premises within the boundaries of the district.
Behind much of the magic at Pepper Place is Sloss Real Estate, a locally owned company that’s been working toward Birmingham’s development since 1920. Helmed by President and CEO Cathy Sloss Jones, the Sloss group manages Pepper Place and has a penchant for bringing in thriving businesses—including a surprising and all-too-uncommon amount of which are owned by women. Keep reading to learn more about some of the impressive women who together are charting a new and exciting future for Pepper Place.
Soapy Jones, owner of Left Hand Soap Co.
One of the newest members to the Pepper Place family, Soapy Jones cultivated her soap and skincare business in Tuscaloosa over the past 22 years, but didn’t make the move to Pepper Place until this spring. By making the leap to Birmingham, she doubled her space to include retail and open-air production (meaning you can see your soap being made live!), as well as soap making classes open to the public. Her line of all-natural, locally sourced soap, skincare, and haircare has expanded greatly over the years, as have her opportunities as a female business owner.
Says Soapy, “Watching the culture change throughout the years, and doors open where there were once walls has been amazing. What was once a daunting certain failure has become a series of opportunities to curate our collaborative partners and find like-minded creatives that make us all stronger and better at making.”
Tiffany Martin, owner of Ignite Cycle
When cycling instructor Tiffany Martin moved to Birmingham in 2017, she ran into the age-old problem of wanting something (in this case, a place to teach cycling classes) and realizing it was nowhere to be found. She took matters into her own hands and opened Ignite Cycle in 2019.
Her boutique cycling studio empowers riders to connect with their community and the best parts of themselves through an upbeat 45-minute ride set to beat-bumping music. Martin likens the Pepper Place community to a college campus. “The energy is always high, and the vibes are always good,” she says. “For many of my team members, parts of Pepper Place have become part of our routines—burritos and mimosas at The Lumbar on Saturday mornings, post-ride dinners at Bettola, lunch at BLUEROOT … The love and support here are very real.”
As for her role as a female business owner, Martin takes the title—and the responsibility that comes with it—very seriously. “As I become a more seasoned owner, I hope that I can provide to other women what my role models and friends have given me. I hope to operate my business in a way that inspires other women to know they can dream big and accomplish those dreams.”
Jennifer Ryan, owner of BLUEROOT
Following a similar story to that of Ignite Cycle, BLUEROOT was born out of Birmingham transplant Jennifer Ryan’s desire to have easily accessible clean, wholesome, and nutritious food. Ryan partnered with James Beard award-winning chef Robin Bashinsky to create a menu of seasonal, produce-forward salads and bowls utilizing the bounty brought in from local farms. After a couple years of market testing at Pepper Place, first with a pop-up at the farmer’s market, then a pandemic-friendly walk-up called the Outpost, BLUEROOT opened its flagship brick and mortar in the heart of the district in July.
Ryan attributes much of BLUEROOT’s success to the mentorship and support she received from community members, many of whom are fellow women of Pepper Place. “[The support I received]—that doesn’t happen everywhere. Especially for an out-of-towner who knew nothing about food or the South and decided to casually slide into an industry dominated by men and very big names in the culinary space. Local business support made it possible…and so many of those businesses happened to be run by women.”
Deborah and Alexandra Stone, owners of FarmStand by Stone Hollow Farmstead
Mother-daughter duo Deborah and Alexandra Stone had been part of the Pepper Place community for more than a decade when they decided to make their partnership a little more permanent. As the owners and innovators behind family farm Stone Hollow Farmstead, they were used to bringing their locally grown produce and flowers to Birmingham via the weekly farmer’s market, but when they started branching out to with a skincare and beauty line, as well as artisan food products, they uncovered a need for a permanent space. In 2019, they opened FarmStand, an outpost highlighting products grown and produced on the farm including wild botanical jellies, herbal-infused drinking vinegar, artisan pickles, heirloom tomato Bloody Mary mixes, and more.
The pair says it was extremely easy to land on Pepper Place as the ideal location for the store because of the community, history, and vision for the future the district provides. “There is a powerhouse group of women at Pepper Place, and we are honored to be surrounded by them. The Pepper Place community as a whole is incredibly supportive with a diverse selection of businesses run by women. Surrounding ourselves with this community keeps us inspired and motivated to keep creating.”
Other female leaders of Pepper Place:
- Cathy Sloss Jones, President and CEO of Sloss Real Estate
- Leigh Sloss-Corra, Executive Director of The Market at Pepper Place
- Callan Childs, Director of Design, Development & Marketing for Sloss Real Estate
- Lochrane Smith, Director of Leasing & Business Development for Sloss Real Estate
- Rylie Hightower, Owner of The Lumbar
- Beth Doyle, Owner of The Collective
- Jeni Britton Bauer, Founder of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams
- Idie Hastings, Co-owner of Hot and Hot Fish Club
- Hannah Benak, President of Black Benack
- Louise Oliver, President of PERITUS public relations
- Cyndy Cantley, Owner of Cantley & Company, Inc.
- Laura Vogtle, Owner of Design Supply
- Kristie Stewart, Founder of LillieKat Rugs
- Alison Page, Founder and President of Aero Joe Pilates
- Rachel Hardage Barrett, Editor-in-Chief of Country Living
- Steele Marcoux, Editor-in-Chief of VERANDA
- Holland Williams, Founder of Holland Williams Photography
- Meredith Sherrill, Founder of M. Sherrill Design
- April Benetollo, CEO of Momentum
- Aileen McElwain, Co-owner of Red Cat