Long-time employee Erika Millage has taken over ownership of Third Plant Boutique, an inclusive and eclectic shop that sells a variety of jewelry, clothing and gifts, making them among the several queer, women and employee-owned businesses in downtown Bellingham.
“I'm really excited to join the ranks of awesome local women-owned businesses, queer-owned businesses in this area,” Millage said. She has worked at the store since it opened in February 2014. She was involved in the set up of the store and after 10 months became manager and continued to help the store grow into what it is today.
“It got to the point where the store was basically mine already, I just didn't own it. But I did everything else that somebody would do if it was their store,” Millage said.
Millage moved to Bellingham when she was 7 years old. Over the last eight years of managing the store, she gradually took on more responsibilities.
To help with the transition, Millage connected with the Small Business Development Center at Western Washington University. The center is a federally funded national organization that provides free confidential advice for businesses with up to 500 employees.
“Increasingly, I hear a push for employee ownership. And this is an example of that, so I think she could just be a source of inspiration,” said Sherri Daymon, business advisor at the Small Business Development Center.
Daymon works with businesses in all industries during the startup, growth and shutdown phases and everything in between.
“I worked with her in getting ready for the purchase of that business and helped her develop her financial projections for a three-year timespan, month by month, from both the profit and loss and a cash flow perspective. I helped her talk through some of the negotiations with the seller and just helped her become the new owner,” Daymon said.
Not only is Millage an inspiration for employees and other locally-owned businesses, she is also passionate about her job and has worked hard to make this change happen.
“She's literally the most motivated woman I have ever met in my life. I feel like she can conquer anything owning a business throws at her,” said Derik Albert, assistant manager of Third Planet. Albert has been working at the store for the last four and a half years.
Millage is also the longest-working employee at Third Planet and has already had complete control of the products and vision for the store.
“We've actually been a very inclusive and welcoming environment for people of all genders and identifications, just a really queer-friendly store. We really strive to have something for everyone. There's no judgments here,” Millage said.
As the new owner, Millage would like to continue to offer a safe and inclusive space for everyone, as well as become more involved with the community.
“The main thing I'm really excited to lean into as owner is supporting more community events and getting more involved,” Millage said. “I'm just excited to finally be a full, 100% locally-owned business and to fully continue to support my staff and the people who shop with us.”
To continue to support her staff, she also got rid of a few outdated rules for them, according to Albert.
“It really boosted everyone's morale when she became the owner. She’s a wonderful person that we know, so it made us all a lot more comfortable,” said Albert.
Albert also manages the store’s Instagram and has been seeking out other businesses like The Wild Buffalo and WinkWink to promote their local events.
“I'm just constantly looking for events and hyping it up so the community can get more things to do; we can kind of come together more,” Albert said. “We're also really going to start doing more donations and putting our name out there as someone who's in support of this event.”
Their store hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day, and they are located at 200 W. Holly St. in Bellingham, Washington.
Lauren Eydt (she/her) is a city news reporter for The Front this quarter. She is a second-year visual journalism pre-major and is working on a Fairhaven or studio arts double major. Lauren also loves to crochet, pet her cat and watch movies all at the same time.
You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.