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Compass Conversations: Hangout on Main

Updated: Apr 9

 

'Compass Conversations' is our newest feature where we shine a light on the vibrant businesses that are the true heart of our community.


Each month, we'll take you on a journey through the unique stories, passions, and dreams that drive our local entrepreneurs. These are the stories behind the logos and social media posts, the spirited souls enriching our daily lives with their craft and dedication.

 
Hangout on Main Storefront
Hangout on Main

What inspired you to start your business?

In March 2021 I became concerned about the lack of real-life social interactions that society shared before the internet. People were disconnected following the pandemic–disconnected, lonely, and bored. The first of all reasons was to provide people a passive location to just hang out without any stuffy obligations to buy something or sign up for anything. I tried to shake the idea off as too big a dream for me, but it kept nagging. So, 'What Do You Do With An Idea?' (Kobi Yamada). You’ll have to read that book to find out!


How does your business contribute to the local community?

I am passionate about the people of Amherst, VA. Part of caring is acknowledging the older generations’ life experiences here. I always knew the tiny center of town struggled to become vibrant again after decades with the 29 Bypass diverting traffic.


I noticed when the Episcopal Thrift Store moved locations that all the foot traffic stopped in town. I considered this when choosing what type of business I wanted to be able to finance the lounge. We needed something that folks would intentionally drive to town for and get out of their car. Once they’re out of their car, they’re more likely to window shop. This helps all the businesses on the block and brings life back to our streets.


Can you share a memorable experience or success story related to your business?

Oh, so many! I’ll share more of those stories at my anniversary celebration on March 18th. But I’d say my number one success story begins with a retired woman who moved to town just as COVID hit. She was so lonely and depressed for years, and frequently expressed how much she hated living in Amherst.


She’s been a regular to the Hangout even before I opened the smoothie shop, first hanging with me, then chatting it up with the others who come in for the same reason. One day she sat at my table and spontaneously looked off in the distance with a smile, “I just love Amherst. You saved my life.” That is what the Hangout is all about.


What challenges have you faced in building your business, and how have you overcome them?

Finances. When I heard a vape shop offered to sign a lease on this storefront, and I had first dibs, I jumped for it. (“Not in MY town you’re not!”) I had no money, no deposit. A total leap of faith. I ran a GoFundMe campaign to pay the deposit and first month’s rent, and switch the utilities and other expenses.


After donations, I’ve depended on my personal funds to invest in everything. More than that, it’s been DIY-or-Die! Purchasing things on Craigslist or thrift stores, discount paint, leaning on volunteers, recycling whatever I could from the former Amherst Pharmacy leftovers, and watching a lot of how-to videos.


After a year I’m still not quite breaking even, and I work 40 hrs a week without pay. But I’m surviving (THRIVING!) and am able to pay an employee! It’s still hard though. Every week is total dependence on God for buying COGS and paying my employees, among other expenses.


I won’t be shy- I need more net income. Until then I’m going to continue sacrificing my personal funds and pick up several odd side jobs to funnel back into the Hangout.


What makes your business unique? 

We are not demographic-specific. All ages and lifestyles have come in and enjoyed their time here. The Hangout is suitable for babies through old ladies (and men, ha!). We have a casual, welcoming atmosphere to provide passive entertainment and relaxation. We do not require a purchase to use the lounge.


What advice would you give to other small business owners who are just starting out? Get the book, “Mind Your Business” by Ilana Griffo. Observe what the community is missing. Maybe running a business is your passion, but be careful that your “product” is enough of a passion or need for enough of your demographic to ensure success.


LISTEN to your customers–ask them point-blank questions and be grateful for criticism. Adapt as necessary. People like good product/service and especially like to be heard! Multiple positive reactions will encourage you. Multiple negative facial expressions or lack of referrals will encourage you to adjust!


How do you see your business evolving in the future? I could see it expand into multiple locations and/or franchise.


Do you have a special message that you'd like to share with the community through this article?

First of all, the Hangout’s primary vision is to give all people a place to go, a place to belong, and a place to feel seen and loved. Second, the Hangout is here to see Amherst, VA enhanced and growing. Third, take just enough risk to move you forward two steps, and don’t worry too much about the inevitable one step back. Fourth, pray–A LOT!

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Photo of the owner and her husband who live in Madison Heights VA

Hi, I'm Michelle

I'm the owner of County Compass, and an Amherst County resident. 

I love our community and want to help new homeowners find all the local gems that may not get enough exposure on social media.

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