Age of business

By Marisol Dorantes

Three Lansing business owners discuss starting a new career after 50

Starting a business is an exercise in maximizing advantages and overcoming challenges — especially when you launch your enterprise later in life. After 50, you might not be as fast as you were at 30 or as proficient with the latest technology, but a lifetime of experience and connections can still pave the way for a successful venture.

Here, three local entrepreneurs share the unique aspects of starting a new business after age 50.

Maria Van Atta

After years of dreaming and two solid years of preparation, Maria “Rhea” Van Atta opened the Old Town General Store earlier this month. She said her goal was to create a “socially conscious” store featuring mostly Michigan-made products.

“I saw a need and I hope to fill it,” Van Atta said. The Old Town General Store is stocked with organic and locally sourced products. Van Atta, former co-owner of Van Atta´s Greenhouse & Flower Shop in Haslett, said the recent opening is a case of “perfect timing,” in both her life and the life of Old Town.

“Ten years ago Old Town wasn’t ready,” she said. “And 20 years ago I didn’t have the funds to start a new business venture on my own. It worked out perfectly.”

Van Atta, 50, said that waiting until she was a little older has given her many more advantages than if she’d launched the Old Town General Store earlier in life.

“I’ve been around the city for a long time, so I have lots of contacts for different kinds of services and developed many different types of expertise,” she said. “It adds up to less guesswork on my part — it just comes from being on Earth longer.”

She said that the biggest advice she’d offer to people who may be thinking of starting a business in their golden years would be to go in prepared, both in body and in mind.

“It’s challenging, physically and mentally,” she said. “The hours can be really long, but you can’t stop. When I was in my 20s it didn’t faze me working 80 hours a tweek. I can’t do that anymore — I get tired. But I love it so far — I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

Old Town General Store
408 E. Grand River Ave., Lansing
9 a.m.-7 p.m. Tues.-Sat.; closed Sun.-Mon., 11 a.m.-5 p.m. First Sundays. (517) 487-6847

Celeste Saltzman

When the empty nest syndrome hits, some people take up knitting or join a bridge club, but Celeste Saltzman decided to start a business. Saltzman opened the women’s boutique Retail Therapy in Saginaw, but moved it to Okemos last year when her husband was transferred to the Lansing area.

“When my kids moved, I started feeling a bit down so I went to a Barnes & Noble, read books about business plans and came up with one,” said Saltzman. She had some previous experience working in the fashion industry through helping someone else start up a boutique, but she had never delved so deeply into the process. But it’s not without its fringe benefits.

“Being a business owner keeps me young,” she said. “There are so many lessons to be learned. I wasn’t smart enough to open this in my 30s or 40s. I learned so much by raising my kids — by life in general, I suppose.”

Before starting Retail Therapy, Saltzman, 60, also volunteered in neo-natal unit at the hospital rocking babies. That was when she made her first business contact, setting in motion the events that led to her opening her store. She said that becoming a business owner later in life has helped her to not do things impulsively, as a younger person might.

“Every time I think I can’t learn any more, I still find something that I didn’t know,” she said. “I suggest constantly studying about business and keeping up to date on social media. Some of the young people I hired help me set up my Facebook and Twitter, and taught me so much about how effective social media is. It’s been a real learning experience.”

Retail Therapy
5100 Marsh Road, Okemos. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon-Fri.;10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat; closed Sunday.
(517) 574-4427 |

Sharon Hind

Both Van Atta and Saltzman are still relatively new on the scene, but Sharon Hind, owner of Portable Feast & Friends in Old Town, has actually opened her restaurant, sold it to another business, re-opened as a food truck and then moved back into her original location — all since 2002. But Hind seems to revel in the adventure.

“Running a business is not easy, but I’ve always loved being my own boss,” said Hind, 65. From operations to cooking, Hind is a one-woman show. The vision behind Portable Feast is the same one Hind has kept through her time in the food industry, which extends over 20 years.

“The type of food I make is localized — I think it’s important to know where your food comes from,” said Hind. Her focus and the pride behind her work allow her to rely mostly on word-of-mouth for success. “I see people enjoy their food from the moment it comes out. When they take pictures and tell me that it was delicious. For me, that’s the greatest satisfaction.”

As for starting a new venture when most people are thinking about retirement, Hind said it’s just a matter of being in the right frame of mind.

“It’s important to be able to adjust and evolve in order to be successful, “ she said. “My time in the industry has given me the confidence to embrace change. People don’t eat the same things they used to, and I have to figure out what it is they want while being true to my food philosophy.”

While creativity with food is Hind’s forte, new aspects of business like social media are not a priority.

“I am on Facebook, but I let other people take care of spreading the word through other platforms,” she said. “I just worry about the food.”

Portable Feast & Friends
1216 Turner St., Lansing. 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Mon. -Thurs..; 10 a.m. -8 p.m. Fri.; 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Sat.; 9 a.m.-1 p.m. First Sundays.
(517) 853-5575