Topeka shines through its local businesses

Local businesses are more than a buzzword. They mean accountability and color. Above all, they’re the heartbeat of a city’s culture, as Jenny Torrence knows.

Torrence is the owner of three businesses, a tic-tac-toe of shops down N. Kansas Avenue in the NOTO Arts District.

“Mom-and-pop shops are community oriented, and they’re what make the difference between one town and another,” she said. “If we don’t get out and support those businesses, we won’t have those colorful businesses.”

Torrence’s businesses fit the bill of colorful, certainly. With Pinkadilly, NOTO Burrito and Serendipity, each brings a bit of flare and flavor to the North Topeka district.

Serendipity is an event space that hosts the gamut, from wedding receptions to comedy nights. Recently, they hosted Adele’s piano player, who “loves Topeka” and schedules an appearance whenever he happens to be around.

What began as one business with the right of refusal for other spaces on the block turned into a trio of businesses when Torrence was offered the other spaces as a “now or never” opportunity.

NOTO Burrito and Pinkadilly now neighbor Serendipity. NOTO Burrito is a “funky” burrito place that’s heavy on themes like the tofu burrito and strawberry sauce, and light on traditional Mexican dishes commonly associated with burritos. Pinkadilly features unique artisanal retail items, perfect for gifting to women — bath bombs, homemade soap, purses, jewelry, etc. Together, the businesses hit the “eat, shop and entertain” necessities that Torrence has come to appreciate as a litmus test for booming local culture.

“Seriously, say your grandma’s coming in from Timbuktu — or anyone from out of town that you want to impress,” she said. “You’re going to have a list of places. Somewhere cool you can take them to eat, somewhere to shop and somewhere entertaining or that you’re just generally proud of. So, what is that for you in Topeka?”

For Torrence, these questions about local versus national and how they affect culture are about more than just the three businesses she owns. It’s a calling in her life, one she has answered with gusto.

“I serve on quite a few boards — I appreciate that a community allows a small business owner to serve on these boards,” she said. “I think I have a colorful personality that has shaped a new space that didn’t always have a voice. I’m proud of being a 42-year-old liberal woman who gives an important voice and passion to my community.”

Torrence’s community involvement extends to the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce board of directors, Visit Topeka board of directors, NOTO Arts and Entertainment Board, the Small Business Council (a division of the Greater Topeka partnership). She donates her time and space to Topeka Pride, as well as participating in numerous other community causes.

But even aside from the charitable contributions of the business, Torrence said people should think of hers and other local businesses before shopping online or going to a chain. In part, she hopes her vibrant businesses motivate consumers to action, but mostly, it’s because she believes shopping locally is the right thing to do.

“When you spend your money with a mom-and-pop shop, you’re spending it in Topeka,” Torrence said. “My accountant is in Topeka. My bug guy is in Topeka. My employees are in Topeka. I pay taxes in Topeka. My suppliers, my cleaners, my plumber and my printer? All Topeka.”

Ultimately, Torrence hopes unique businesses like hers inspire Topekans.

“Topeka’s on an amazing upswing in our city pride and camaraderie,” Torrence said. “That’s a beautiful thing, and small business is a part of that as a part of our culture. They’re hidden gems that you’re not going to find anywhere else.

“Why not celebrate the fun, colorful parts of our community?”