Written by: Alyse Horn
After she was diagnosed with cancer last June, Shira Barron lost 35 pounds and had to rebuild her wardrobe from scratch.
During that time, Barron said it was therapeutic for her to get new clothing and it helped pull her out of the depression she was feeling, but she found that there were very few programs offering assistance to people going through the same ordeal as her.
While she was noticing the lack of support for cancer patients to “get back into their everyday lives,” Barron was also looking for a way to commemorate her Aunt Lottie who had been murdered by a family member with a mental illness and was struggling with homelessness.
“I wanted to create a legacy for her and that’s why I want to help people transition from homelessness and touch on mental illness [issues],” Barron said.
For those transitioning from homelessness, and also for cancer patients and survivors that have experienced tremendous weight loss, Barron created Aunt Lottie’s Closet. With guidance from Ignite Northside, Barron has been working on finding a location on the Northside to house her future “thrift store.”
“When I got into this program I didn’t know the first step of what to do,” Barron said. “From [creating] a business plan all the way to things I never thought I needed to focus on, like accounting and legal things, they helped me and guided me through all of that.”
Barron said the realization of how much goes into opening a store was overwhelming, but the weekly one-on-one meetings with Ignite Northside Program Manager Ebony McQueen-Harris helped her slow down and refocus.
“[Ebony] really helps guide you, and it’s not just about your business,” Barron said.
It’s also about focusing on participant’s mental wellbeing through the process of starting a business. Barron said she attended an Ignite Northside workshop in late October that had participants focus on visualizing their plans and goals. It also incorporated parts of Pittsburgh author Emily Marko’s new book “Wide Awake: A 7-Day Visual Guide to Calm the Mind + Get the Sleep You Deserve.” According to Marko’s website, the book helps readers “discover what keeps you up at night by taking the sleepless archetype quiz. Once you find out if you are a worrier, an idea maker, a to-doer, or in need of some me moments, you will be guided along a 7-day visual journey to help you get more of those precious zzz’s.”
Barron said it means a lot to her that the program not only focuses on helping entrepreneurs get their businesses started, but also the welfare of those involved. It’s a mission that she is familiar with as it’s similar to the idea behind Aunt Lottie’s Closet: helping people gain their footing while supplying them with fundamental assistance to reach their goals.
While she is still looking for a brick and mortar location, Barron has been working with The Shelter Project to pass out clothing to the homeless in West Park in Allegheny Commons. According to its website, “’Shelter’ is an acronym for Safe Housing and Employment Services Leading Towards Economic Restoration.” Barron said she hopes to continue to work with the organization in the future, but her goal right now is to obtain a space to work out of. She was offered space in East Liberty, but Barron said she would like her business to stay located on the Northside.
“The Northside is like a gem to me,” Barron said. “I’d like to help restore some of the areas in our neighborhood and utilize [vacant buildings].”