Arriving in Maven’s neighborhood, the writing is already on the wall that this is not your typical neighborhood. Splashed across a 15-foot-tall mural, like a feminist manifesto written large against a hot pink background, are the immortal words: “Maven: Pioneer Misfit. Those who dare to be first and stand alone.” On the side of a nearby building is even more vibrant street art, this time a painting of a group of women lifting each other up. I’ve officially arrived at Maven, Utah’s first sorority, where 85% of the businesses are female-owned.
Started in 2010 as a solo Pilates studio, this pioneering district has blossomed into a vibrant network of around 100 women-owned businesses in recent years. Much of the action is condensed into one block at 9 and 9th close to downtown Salt Lake City, but a quick look around reveals the Maven is a rapidly expanding tribe, with construction nearing completion on a second complex just across the street.
Meeting me in front of a cookie store, the smell of freshly baked cookies wafting from its doors, is Rocky Donati, chief marketing officer and co-owner of Maven. We round the corner to the Juice Shop, where the healthy menu includes inventive toasties and protein shakes served to a hipster clientele. Founded by first-time entrepreneur Meera Patel, who returned to Salt Lake City after a successful career in marketing in New York City, it’s a great example of how Maven is drawing fliers to the city like homing pigeons.
It’s about creating an ecosystem where women can thrive through mentoring and community support, Donati tells me as we wander the women-powered Maven shelter. It’s a vision that has clearly attracted a diverse range of businesses to the block, from an art studio offering painting and pottery classes, to a swanky co-working space and a wellness center that runs the gauntlet from working out. of strength to zen awareness.
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Why this hotbed of progressive activity arose right in the heart of conservative Salt Lake City is up for debate. From education to employment, Utah is near the bottom of national women’s equality surveys, so it’s perhaps a take-charge response to the day-to-day barriers that still exist. But equally, Utah’s strongly religious family and culture — this is, after all, a state where 66 percent of the population identifies as Mormon — has long created an environment that welcomes small businesses over mega-corporations.
“Utah also has many part-time working moms and women who turn hobbies into careers, so there was a real hunger for what Maven offers,” Donati adds, as we dive into Mineral and Matter, a boutique where precious stones sparkle in the window and the shelves are lined with zodiac charts and cosmic-chic notebooks.
On the high street, I stop at Curiosity, an outrageously “grammable” zero-proof bottle shop and bar. Offering the sober-curious an adult nightlife experience, minus the hangovers, the bar also hosts poetry nights and social gatherings where drinks are paired with mind-expanding questions.
Looking across the street at the new under construction Maven 2.0 block, a mixture of restaurants, locally owned homes and Airbnb apartments due to open in June 2023, Curiosity co-owner Raegan Plewe tells me that “the area is changing so fast. In five years it will be totally unrecognizable.”
Whipping up a mood-boosting elixir mocktail, the mixologist adds that he’s personally found inspiration for the tight-knit local crowd. “It feels good to be surrounded by so many women making their dreams come true,” he says, sliding a hemp-laced drink rimmed with spiced salt onto the jade-green tiled counter. “It’s a community where we have a social hour to talk about how things are going and what we could improve. There’s also funding to help grow our businesses and mentorship programs for newbies.” Forget the day trip: Taking a long swig of my elixir, I’m already thinking I could live quite easily in this utopian micro-verse.
At my next stop I’m told that a lifelong matriarchal lifestyle is actually quite doable by Tori Plant, owner of the Planted Salon. When she’s not doing top-notch hairdos at Utah’s Sundance Film Festival, Plant and her team are cutting and coloring at her palm-leaf-wallpapered salon. Pausing between appointments, Plant says the enclave was “designed as a curated community, where the things women want are within walking distance. So, you can do your hair, grab a soft drink with a friend, get a tattoo at the tattoo shop, have a therapy session and go home, all in just a few steps.”
Back on the street, I reconnect with Maven creator Donati outside a retro vinyl record store. He is quick to tell me that she, too, was unprepared for the neighborhood’s thunderous success. “It’s gotten a lot bigger than we ever imagined when we started with a small building,” she marvels, as a pair of women walk past us on their way to get their chicken and waffles at the Pig & A Jelly Jar restaurant . “Of course, there have been women’s cooperatives in the past, but nothing of this magnitude”.
So, what’s next for the Maven empire? “Now we’re looking to expand into nearby towns, like Ogden, and then think about how it might look nationwide,” confides Donati. “Because in the end every city has women who are looking for opportunities to shine”. Expect to see the Maven sisters pop up stateside in the not-too-distant future.
Delta flies direct from London to Salt Lake City with a flight time of 10 hours 20 minutes. From Salt Lake City International Airport, Maven is a 10-minute drive.
Sleep in for the night in a Maven-owned rental from £96 a night, festooned with artwork and products from local independents including Pantry Products and Majaira Studio. Each unit has its own kitchen, and overnight guests can also borrow bikes to explore the area.
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