Ladies of Liberty – Savannah Magazine
The businesswomen of Drayton Tower share one roof – and the successes of the other
Photography by CATIE McGEE
SUPPORTING WOMEN-OWNED BUSINESSES is easy at Drayton Tower, the historic 12-story federal building located at 102 E. Liberty St. Downstairs, nine different locations are owned by nine different, extremely cool women.
When I paid a visit to Drayton Tower to better understand their general ethos, the love and camaraderie was evident. I saw them walk into each other’s businesses, learned about different cross events, and even saw an advertisement for one business in another business’s window.
“Every day we visit, encourage or help each other in some way,” says Allison Falkenberry, owner of Otium. “That’s what makes this lineup so interesting – we’re actually friends, so we’re really invested in helping each other out.”
For these so-called “ladies of freedom,” who share the name with friends Elizabeth Seeger and Mahala Lewis of Satchel, 4 E. Liberty St., being in one of the city’s tallest buildings means heaven is the limit: in just a few years, they’ve reinvigorated the ground floor of Drayton Tower with a mix of retail, fitness, a restaurant, lounge and more. What glass ceiling?
ALLISON FALKENBERRY // otium
Falkenberry, a former publishing and media executive from New York who still works as a crisis communications consultant, was the first Lady of Liberty to arrive in Drayton Tower with the opening of wellness studio Otium in 2018 “When I wasn’t working, I was studying the fields of mindfulness, epigenetics, and neuroscience,” she says. “That’s what led me to open the studio here.”
She describes the space as a “boutique yoga and fitness studio with a mission to ‘support good.'” This intentionality is reflected in artfully designed classrooms and an inviting space for good movement, good music and good mood. otiumstudios.com
JANE FISHEL // Savoy society
“Savoy Society is a neighborhood cocktail bar and restaurant where people from all walks of life can come and have fun,” says Jane Fishel, the second of nine to put down roots in the tower (she co-owns the bar with her partner Matt Garappolo). Its vibe — Fishel calls it “sweet, psychedelic tiki” — combines a pure vinyl soundtrack, carefully curated by a crew that loves to sing and dance, with small plates like smoked salmon and avocado flatbread and , of course, cocktails. Pitcher martinis are also on the menu along with mocktails, but if Fishel had to choose, the Omaha, Nebraska native says it’s an easy choice: “A sonic gin and a shot of Fernet Branca.” savoysociety.com
MICHELLE PETH // BEET
When Michelle Peth’s younger sister had frightening issues with skin cancer (don’t worry, she’s fine!), Peth made it her mission to create a natural product that would make people look sunkissed without any shame. His organic spray tan company, BeetTan, shines a light on a not-so-secret ingredient: beets.
When Peth started her business, “people around Savannah called me ‘the little spray tan girl,'” adding, “I think they still do, actually. But the nickname belies Peth’s prowess.” : she is also a real estate agent with Vantosh Realty Group, working under broker Beth Vantosh, who is responsible for Drayton Tower listings. “I appreciate the way [Beth] runs the business, and I respect her as a woman in this business. And knowing that I’m a businesswoman, she comes up to me and says, “Hey, I know you know all these other women,” Peth says. The result? Six other women have opened spaces in the building. beettan.com
JEN PAZSAMANT // Pima-Boutique
The first business Peth introduced was Pima Boutique, owned by Paszamant, who was one of his first spray tan customers. Paszamant, who moved to Savannah from New Jersey while in high school, has strong ties to space. “I went to St. Vincent’s, just around the corner from the store,” she says. She went on to study graphic design at Savannah College of Art & Design, knowing all along that she wanted to one day open her own clothing store – one that offered “affordable, fashionable clothing for all age groups. “.
Pima’s Liberty Street storefront features a mix of styles, from muted colors and flowing fabrics to more tailored and even retro looks. The whole is fresh and feminine. pimaboutique.com
EMILIE BARGERON // Granny Ruth
Next are Grandma Ruth and Mr. Liz Jewelry, two companies occupying the same space. “They were good friends of mine who supported me and my business in the early days when they were located at the other end of Liberty Street,” says Peth.
Mamie Ruth is a living world of brightly colored clothing and accessories, inspired by the music festival scene where Emily Bargeron got her start. “I went to my first music festival in college and fell in love with the culture,” she says. She felt at home among the colorful patterns and eccentric clothes and wanted to be part of this world. Bargeron first started selling T-shirts at concerts “just so I could go to more shows”. She started sewing entire outfits to sell at festivals and was a walking advertisement for her own work.
She eventually put her experience and fashion degree to good use in three stores: Mamie Ruth, named after her grandmother and now located in Drayton Tower; East & Up, which sells vintage clothing and accessories; and Starland Strange, an experiential retail collaboration with co-owner Marguerite Seckman. mamieruth.com
MARY LIZ CRAFT // Mr. Liz Jewelry
Mary Liz Craft grew up in Akron, Ohio and went to SCAD for Metals and Jewelry. After graduating, she went to work for ZIA Couture Jewelry. “[ZIA owner Zia Sachedina] was a huge mentor,” says Craft. “I learned so much from him about running a business, both in retail and in production.” To create her own jewelry line, highlighting dynamic yet classic pieces, all formed from meticulously selected materials, Craft found early inspiration in her home. “My dad owns his own business,” she says, “and I’ve seen it grow from a sole proprietorship to hundreds of employees over the years.” Craft describes her mother as “super creative” – ”We spent a lot of our childhood engrossed in arts and crafts projects, and she made all of our clothes when she was a kid.”
The women of Drayton Tower are also inspirational: “Meeting the business community of Savannah has been one of the greatest blessings in my life and career,” she says. “I feel like we’re all doing so well because of each other. We’re here to help each other through the tough times and celebrate all the wins. mlizdesigns.com
COURTNEY BELL // Fern Soap factory
When a small space adjoining Otium opened, Peth needed to find a business that would match its vibe. The exquisite Fern Soapery, owned by Courtney Bell, was the perfect fit.
“Fern Soapery is deeply rooted in two values: using clean botanical ingredients and maintaining a high level of ecological awareness,” says Bell, who describes herself as a creative forward-thinker who is always learning. “I studied for three years as a chemistry student, and I’ve been formulating and manufacturing skincare products for six years now,” she says.
His soaps may smell good, but they also feel good. As of press time, Bell’s business is “transforming into bath and body replenishment to further meet our community’s need for clean, low/zero waste personal care products.” . fernsoapery.com
AMANDA BRYANT // Clean
When a spacious property on the Drayton Street side of the building became available, Peth immediately thought of her friend of 20 years, hairstylist Amanda Bryant. After eight months of renovations, the Bryant and Les Proper salon has moved in. The salon is also home to Peth’s BeetTan and Emma Proulx Fischer’s Bad Witch Nails, as well as a gallery with rotating works by local artists.
Nor is Proper Bryant’s first foray into Drayton Tower. “I’ve been a stylist for 14 years and used to be at another salon which was also formerly located in Drayton Tower,” she says. When her longtime friend Peth mentioned the opening, Bryant decided to venture out on her own. “The space is meant to be fun, casual, clean, and comfortable,” says Bryant. His name is also a bit ironic, says Bryant. “It’s not in line with society or what is considered appropriate.”
EMMA PROULX FISCHER // bad witch nails
A wicked witch from Brooklyn, Fischer, a graduate of SCAD, was “always in very small webs.” Nails — tiny blank canvases, in fact — “ended up being the perfect intersection of art and fashion for me,” says Fischer. “I love how nails can act as an accessory to someone’s look.”
The name “Bad Witch” isn’t just a play on the NSFW rhyming phrase, but also a nod to “Fischer’s corny obsessions like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Harry Potter” (she started out painting works of art inspired by literature on his own nails). Fischer has been doing nails since 2017, but was thrilled to move into Les Proper in October 2021. Her wildly creative gel manicures are miniature works of art. badwitchnails.com