When Jane Bonomo opened her first boutique shop in 1973, it was in a small building on Church Street just off Main Street in downtown Blacksburg. Now she owns a whole plaza across town on University City Boulevard.
Bonomo grew up in Pennsylvania and attributes much of her work ethic to her father, a newspaperman. She accompanied him to work at the age of nine and started doing odd jobs shortly thereafter. “I hung out in the printing plant and watched how he treated people. I learned a lot from him,” Bonomo offers.
She moved to Blacksburg in 1968 and after visiting a similar store in Winston-Salem decided that was exactly what she wanted to do: run a boutique shop.
“I copied that store exactly. I stayed with them for a few days and copied everything they did,” Bonomo states. She moved her store to University Mall when it first opened, fully understanding that retail needed ample parking. Coincidentally, her original location is now a parking lot.
At the peak of business she owned seven stores in the region from Radford to Lynchburg – all called Bonomo’s. When it became clear certain stores weren’t doing well or she tired of traveling to them, she would simply close them.
When rent kept increasing at the mall, Bonomo started looking for other options and had her eye on a building in foreclosure across the street. She operated there until Starbucks showed interest, then she moved across the parking lot into the current location.
Bonomo does all her own buying. Staying relevant can be a challenge, but she relishes being able to touch and feel the products and listen to the salesperson’s expertise on the current market. Staff and customers also regularly give opinions.
Her target customer? “People who care about how they look, who want to look nice,” she responds. She agrees that being an entrepreneur requires a certain amount of relentlessness – in a good way. It also requires the ability to adapt and the courage to change if something’s not working.
“I really enjoy coming to work. I love being around people, and I like to see women do well in business.” Bonomo will keep coming to work until someone decides she can’t breathe, she states in all seriousness with just a glint of jest. When that love of work and dedication to craft is forefront, it’s no question how your business becomes a household name and a story of success for more than 40 years.
Text by Nancy Moseley
Photo by Nathan Cooke