Bye-bye Big Apple, hello Indy: Young entrepreneurs opt to open firms here

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Two Hoosier natives are back home in Indiana to start neighboring businesses on Fort Wayne Avenue, no less.

The world travelers-separated in age by just a year-spent significant time in New York City but only met within the past six months. With similar stories to tell about why they chose to return to Indianapolis, and impressed with the city’s vibrant downtown that had blossomed while they were away, the two opted to take the plunge together.

Both say they’re not alone in their decision and know of other young entrepreneurs drawn to the opportunities a more populous downtown offers. While the activity may not be enough to constitute a trend, it could signal a sort of “brain gain” to offset the well-documented “brain drain” phenomenon.

In fact, Amy Peddycord and Joel Ferree are both graduates of New York City’s esteemed Columbia University-Peddycord a product of the institution’s graduate business school, and Ferree its graduate architecture school.

Peddycord, 30, launched Invoke, a yoga and Pilates studio, Feb. 1 in the Buschmann building, which spans the 900 block of Fort Wayne Avenue at an odd angle.

Ferree, 29, is preparing to open his Rural clothing store in space next to Peddycord’s studio in late March.

Each says the other has been an immense help in wading through the cumbersome process of opening a business. After meeting through a mutual friend in October, the pair insist they might not have committed without the other’s pledge. They leased on a simple “if you sign, I’ll sign” agreement.

“We call each other every day,” Peddycord said. “I would not have signed had Joel not come forward. I still had my concerns. I didn’t want two empty spaces next to me.”

The Buschmann building once housed the eclectic Tim & Billy’s Salvage Store, now known as Tim and Avi’s on Central Avenue, and more recently the X-Pression Bookstore and Gallery.

Peddycord’s middle spot, flanked on each side by separate spaces, has been remodeled and features trendy workout areas where patrons can participate in yoga and Pilates sessions. She leads more than half of the classes and teaches the OM yoga technique, which she spent 200 hours and $3,500 to learn.

The Zionsville native, who earned degrees in international relations and psychology from Indiana University in 1997, studied abroad while in college and moved to San Francisco following graduation. She worked for a not-for-profit international student exchange program and later started her own business hosting dot-com launch parties before the sector’s bubble burst.

Peddycord moved to New York City in 2000 to begin her studies at Columbia and stayed in Manhattan until June 2004, working at New York-based public relations firms Ketchum and Robinson Lerer & Montgomery. A shakeup at the firm where she was working and the attraction of cheaper rents in Indianapolis convinced her to return. Also, her parents were among the first tenants of Firehouse Square at the corner of Ohio and Alabama streets and enjoyed living downtown.

The 56 condominiums California-based Ryland Homes built there beginning in 2000 sold out quickly. Now, including the first phase of the Market Square Arena redevelopment project, more than 500 condos are slated to hit the market by late next year.

“I really noticed the improvement to downtown,” Peddycord said. “I was ready to leave New York.”

Already saddled with burdensome gradschool debt, Peddycord figured she had nothing to lose by starting her own business. She received a $50,000 loan from the National Bank of Indianapolis, backed by the U.S. Small Business Administration, to launch her startup.

Ferree went to Park Tudor and graduated from New York University in 1998 with a degree in psychology. As a free-lancer who wrote about style and fashion trends, his works appeared in such publications as New York Magazine, Spin and Lucky. He also served as the personal assistant for author Candace Bushnell, who inspired the popular HBO series “Sex and the City.”

Following 9/11, Ferree said, the atmosphere in the city changed “drastically” and its economy worsened. As jobs became harder to find, he enrolled at Columbia in 2002 and received a grant upon graduating in 2004 to travel Europe to study the European Union’s tourism program for his urban-planning major.

Upon returning to Indianapolis for a visit in July, Ferree said he was blown away by the city’s metamorphosis.

“I was sort of turned on to it,” he said. “I went back to New York and loaded everything in a minivan and drove home in late August. I was ready for a change.”

Rural will feature men’s and women’s fashions by designers from New York, Israel and Brazil, said Ferree, who will use the contacts he’s already made to stock his shop.

Once the fall inventory arrives later this year, Ferree hopes to have $20,000 in monthly revenue. He plans to combine personal savings and a bank loan he is in the process of getting to finance the operation.

Peddycord is hoping for first-year revenue of $100,000. If all goes well, she might expand into the space to the east of her studio that housed X-Pression. She also has an agreement to offer her classes at Better Bodies Inc. in Zionsville.

A few blocks away is a business owner who could well serve as a mentor to the two young entrepreneurs. Massachusetts Avenue so far has been kind to James Underwood, who opened the Urban Lilly flower shop and home boutique six months ago with partner Caitlin Buchanan.

Like Peddycord and Ferree, Underwood, 32, left Indianapolis for New York City, only to return after he too realized he needed a change. Underwood cut hair in Greenwich Village until 1999, when he came back home.

He wanted to open some type of shop but could not do it in Manhattan, where rents are costlier and competition fiercer, he said. Underwood spent about a year researching his concept before opening last year. He said business has been “phenomenal.”

“I would walk that block [on Massachusetts Avenue] every day until I found a place to come open,” Underwood said. “That’s how I found it.”

Terry Sweeney, Indianapolis Downtown Inc.’s vice president of real estate development, said Peddycord and Ferree could benefit from a location highly visible to commuters entering downtown. Continued residential development in the St. Joseph neighborhood also will help their chances, he said.

Conversely, he said, the location lacks adequate parking and is not pedestrian-friendly.

“If the concept is well-developed and well-managed, they certainly will do well downtown,” Sweeney said. “It will be important for them to develop that customer base and loyalty.”

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