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Mercantile Center working for three unique businesses
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With all the talk of business start-ups, entrepreneurship and building the local economy, three of the original tenants of the Gays Mills Mercantile Center may have been overlooked.

Last spring, these three businesses moved into the recently completed mall along Highway 131 to gain a greater presence in the community. For two of those businesses, Rebecca Eby’s Studio Noveau Photography and Ashley Morga’s Xpressions Dance, moving into the Mercantile Center was an expansion of their existing businesses into a larger presence in the community. However, Tammy Swiggum opened an entirely new business with her Skin Envy Airbrush Tanning.

All three women have been pleased with their spaces in the new building owned by the Village of Gays Mills. The three joined three other businesses, which had relocated from Main Street last spring as part of a flood relocation effort.

Rebecca Eby had been running her photography business from her home in Gays Mills for five years before moving to the Mercantile Center last spring. Her area of concentration was overwhelmingly wedding photography. Not only that, most of the weddings were out of the area.

“In 2011, I flew to 30 percent of the weddings I shot,” Rebecca noted. “I didn’t do a lot in the local area.”

In fact, the skilled photographer has shot weddings in Canada, Mexico and the Dominican Republic, as well as the United States.

While wedding photography remains a very important part of Eby’s business, it has evolved and expanded to include a lot more family portraits and high school senior photos. It’s also slowly starting to gain a more local focus. At least part of that evolution may be due to the business’s relocation to a storefront in the mall.

While Rebecca works out of the storefront studio periodically, there are no set hours—it’s open by appointment only. Most people find her business initially through its website or by making direct contact with Rebecca through e-mail at

Almost 100 percent of Rebecca’s photos are taken on location—that means at a wedding, a family’s house or some other location entirely.

In addition to her photography studio, Rebecca Eby is employed as the Executive Director of Prairie du Chien Downtown Revitalization. Despite her other commitments, Eby is very excited to have a storefront in the mall.

“Getting out of the house and getting a retail space at the Mercantile Center has been amazing,” the successful photographer said. She has been very excited about getting her work up on the walls of the studio for people to see and appreciate.

Studio Nouveau is a comfortable place with nicely upholstered chairs placed in different areas as well as table and chairs. The comfortable seating puts one in the middle of a photo gallery of some of Rebecca’s finest work. The walls are adorned with absolutely stunning photographs of people-old and young usually caught in the midst of enjoying themselves.

Rebecca smiled as she explained she was a professional photographer who took photos of people not things. A glance around her studio makes that point perfectly clear.

While there have been a few walk-ins at her new retail space in the Mercantile Center, she is equally excited by the relationships she has built with her new neighbors in the mall. She believes the Mercantile Center will play an important role in the future of Gays Mills and is happy to be a part of that. She is also happy to have a chance to showcase some of her photography in the studio.

Rebecca and her husband Ben Eby enjoy living and working in the area after moving here from Madison six years ago.

“We really enjoy the relationships we’ve made with people in Crawford County and Gays Mills,” Rebecca said. “It’s so nice when the people in the businesses you use actually know your name,” she explained. “I’ve never had that, not in Madison, not in Virginia, not anywhere.”

Ashley Morga is also enjoying her space in the Gays Mills Mercantile Center. Xpressions Dance now has a prime location to offer dance lessons to the children from the North Crawford Schools.

Ashley began Xpressions Dance with a studio in Prairie du Chien six years ago. She started offering dance lessons in the North Crawford area about three years ago.

Xpressions Dance was one of the first tenants to rent space in the Gays Mills Mercantile Center last March. Ashley offers instruction to dancers aged three through 18 years old. In Gays Mills, the studio offers ballet, tap, jazz and hip-hop. However, Ashley said she’s open to other things that time, space and interest would allow. For instance in Prairie du Chien, Xpressions offers ballroom dance as well as Zumba fitness classes for adults.

Xpressions is currently open on Thursday nights from 3:45 to 7:45 p.m.

“I hope we can continue to grow,” Ashley said looking toward the future in Gays Mills. “Since we offered classes for North Crawford, we’ve grown every year. The next step is to get a good solid program going and bring on more dancers. Maybe we can expand to the point where we can bring on another teacher.”

Ashley is pretty happy with her decision to take a space at the mall.

“The Mercantile Center offered us a great opportunity to have our own space,” Ashley said. “This kind of space was not previously available. There’s not a lot of retail space for rent here.”

The youthful dance instructor liked the low cost rent of the space and the green building.

“It’s a good opportunity for us to get a foothold,” Ashley said.

While Rebecca and Ashley used the Gays Mills Mercantile Center to expand their existing businesses here, Tammy Swiggum looked at the affordable rental space and decided to start a brand new business. Skin Envy Airbrush Tanning is a spray tan salon using the latest medical grade equipment to deliver a flawless, beautiful, glowing tan, according to Tammy.

Skin Envy also carries a full line of skin care products for healthy skin and optimizing the tans. Tammy emphasized that the custom colors she uses are guaranteed to produce the desired result.

“It’s never orange,” Tammy said in reference to what some people have experienced at other spray tan salons.

Tammy explained Skin Envy uses Fantasy Tan products, from the creators of spray tanning.

“It’s the best of the best,” Tammy said of Fantasy Tan spray tanning. The products have been used on Dancing with the Stars, the spray tan salon operator noted.

Tammy was trained on site at the Fantasy Tan Company. Before she could use the products she was required to pass a test recognizing skin colors and matching them to the proper Fantasy Tan product.

Tammy is in the process of redoing her schedule and is currently available by appointment, but wants to start a daily schedule.

As for the space in the Gays Mills Mercantile Center, the vivacious spray tanner is more than happy with the outcome.

“I love it,” Swiggum said. “It’s perfect. It’s convenient. It’s just what I was looking for. I love Gays Mills. I love working in my hometown.”

So, if you’re thinking nothing’s new in Gays Mills, you’re wrong. Three women opened businesses in the Gays Mills Mercantile Center this spring and six months later it’s hard to tell which one is happier about the idea. Congratulations to Rebecca, Ashley and Tammy, while others are talking and studying entrepreneurship, they took initiative to become entrepreneurs.