Arlington, VA

It’s hard to run a small business in Arlington, and Lyndsey DePalma of the former House of Steep knows the ups and downs as well as anyone.

Now, she’s making sure other business owners don’t make the same mistakes she made.

After DePalma sold her Lee Highway teahouse in 2017 — it permanently closed a year later — she took time off to reflect and spend time with her family. One day she had an epiphany: why not turn her experience into an opportunity to help others?

“I call myself a business sanity specialist,” DePalma said in an interview with ARLnow. “I look at people who are overwhelmed and see what we can do to make it better.”

After two years of writing, DePalma transformed her pile of business notes and personal reflections into a book called “READY: What To Expect When Starting a Business.” In addition to being sold online, the book will soon be on the bookshelves of local stores One More Page Books and Trade Roots, she said.

While the book is catered to business owners everywhere, DePalma understands starting up in Arlington comes with both unique hardships and positive value.

“Rent is expensive, sure, but when you rent in Arlington you’re also renting within a local community,” she said. “The county’s only 26 square miles — there’s a proximity and connectedness that makes this special.”

In 2011, DePalma knew her business idea for a “tea house and foot sanctuary” would be a hard sell.

“Everyone kept telling me, it’s too ‘West Coast’ for Arlington,” she said. “But I did it anyway.”

It took a year and a half to get the store off the ground, with multiple roadblocks such as zoning requirements and hiring certified staff.

“And then on opening day, we had things go wrong that we never would have imagined,” DePalma said. “We had a huge check-list, and I threw it out the door.”

DePalma credits much of her early success to a mentorship within the Arlington Economic Development’s BizLaunch program. BizLaunch is billed as a “small business and entrepreneurial assistance network” and a “one-stop-shop for everything you’ll need to know about starting or growing a business in Arlington.”

DePalma said small businesses should take advantages of opportunities to seek help whenever possible.

“There are still headaches [there], and I wish there was a focus on programs, but small businesses do need to know there are resources there,” she said.

After becoming pregnant with her second child, DePalma made the decision in the fall of 2017 to sell the businesses.

“My identity had been wrapped in this, and I loved every part of it,” she said. “It wasn’t easy.”

One last piece of advice?

“Make those relationships. Start them early,” she said. “That was the differentiator for me, I had time to really get to know the real estate brokers and bankers, and I had to figure out what people I clicked with, and that made the biggest difference.”

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