Small Businesses, Big Dreams

By Jadrian Klinger

The Entrepreneurial Spirit is Alive and Well in Harrisburg

Little Amps Coffee Roasters

In a marketplace where a business behemoth like Starbucks reigns supreme among the cup-of-joe purveyors in nearly every city across the nation and beyond, it is no easy task becoming one of the most popular places for great coffee in Pennsylvania’s state capital.

Yet, the owner of Little Amps Coffee Roasters, Aaron Carlson, accomplished just that in little more than two years.  For any resident who calls Olde Uptown Harrisburg home, there is but one place to go for coffee, and the same is becoming true for the new location on the corner of State and 2nd streets.

Part of the reason for Carlson’s rapid success can be attributed to the unique and relaxed atmosphere of his two locations, which includes vinyl records sold in-store as well as utilized as décor, and his commitment to roasting the finest coffee beans in the world.

There is also the component of Carlson’s business that attracts not just coffee aficionados and those seeking a hip java-sipping respite, but also customers looking to support local small business.

Coffee, however, was not his first career choice.  Originally from Dauphin, Pa., Carlson, 36, made his living as a musician in the Washington, D.C.-based band The Carlsonics, but the flavor of those little beans called to him even then.

“When I toured with my band, we’d always look for coffee when we’d get into town because we’d get there early,” he says.  “We’d ask people where the best cup of coffee or coffee shop was when we’d get to town.”

From that point, Carlson’s appreciation of the dark brew grew.  “I really got into what you call craft coffee or third-wave coffee when I was living in Oakland, Calif.”

While out on the West Coast, Carlson learned the coffee-roasting trade by taking an internship at Ritual Coffee Roasters in San Francisco.  At the time, he already had plans to bring the trend and art of roasting well-sourced beans back home to Harrisburg.

At first, Carlson roasted out of a warehouse, selling beans online and to friends.  He then heard through a friend that investors were looking to open a coffee shop in Olde Uptown, to which he thought he could supply roasted beans.

But the investors were looking for more than just a product supply; they were looking for a coffee-shop runner.  Carlson jumped at the opportunity and turned his affinity for java into a popular small business with two locations.

Carlson attributes the success of Little Amps to good coffee and good timing.  “It’s not rocket science, but it is science, and I do spend a little bit more cash on obtaining the right beans and roast them to bring out the origin character, not the roast character,” he explains.  “I also think a lot of people were ready for something different in Harrisburg.”

Carlson admits that his original career dream was that of a rock star, but he also envisioned owning a business.  “I think I’ve always had the idea that I’d have some kind of space where people would come, and in my 20s, I thought it was probably going to be a bar,” he says.  “I’m glad I didn’t go into that because, in the coffee industry, people are really nice.”

That dream of having his own space where people could come and enjoy themselves helped him arrive at where he is now with Little Amps, but what continues to drive Carlson?

“I work pretty hard, and I sometimes get a little burned out,” he says.  “…Having someone say, ‘Wow, I’ve never had coffee like this,’ or ‘This is the best cappuccino I’ve ever had’ – that stuff is important for me to be part of because I do a little more office work these days, and it’s good to work in the shop and reap those rewards.”

For more information about Little Amps, visit


A small business that helps other small businesses, 
st@rtup in Harrisburg is the city’s first “coworking space,” with a goal to connect “dreamers and doers, thinkers and tinkerers.”

The two co-founders of 
st@rtup – Adam Brackbill and Adam Porter – joined forces after meeting at a Harrisburg Young Professionals mixer.  “I had this idea in my head for a space, but didn’t know what,” says Porter, 27.  “I discovered Adam Brackbill, a web developer who had been renting a space in uptown Harrisburg, was looking for a different option.  So we started talking, and one thing led to another – actual bar-napkin scribbles turned into st@rtup.”

At the time, Porter was working in the nonprofit sector, and Brackbill already had his own web
development company (Render Innovations), which he still maintains and utilizes at 
st@rtup.  “I was tired of people looking down at young people for being in business,” says Brackbill, 23, “so that was the initial drive for Render, and then I met Adam, and we began working together.  I thought it would be great to do st@rtup because it helps people complete their goals and start their own business.”

This past march, Brackbill and Porter opened the doors of st@rtup on 3rd Street, across from Midtown HACC.   Currently, they have about a dozen members at st@rtup – every kind of company, from a home improvement and remodeling contractor to an iPad app developer.

So what exactly is a “coworking space”?

“It’s a place for folks who are starting their own businesses who would otherwise be working from home or remotely to have a common place to work,” explains Porter.  “We have all the amenities and tools of a traditional office for those who may not have access to that otherwise.  It is a whole lot more efficient financially for us to share things.  …We offer tangible tools such as a copier, Wi-Fi, conference room with presentation equipment – all those sorts of things.  Also there are event seminars, guidance and something we can’t really curate but just happens naturally by people working together, which is members making connections with each other.”

Brackbill and Porter believe in Harrisburg and the surrounding area, and part of the motivation behind st@rtup resides in their desire to help turn the greater capital region into a place where businesses want to be and talented individuals want to stay.

“I think for Harrisburg and this whole area in general, there are a lot of opportunities that people easily overlook,” says Brackbill.

“If you have think you have a big fancy idea that is going to be the next Facebook, chances are you have not thought to stick around Harrisburg,” says Porter.  “We want to change that mindset.  There is a reason to be here.  There are tons of smart, creative people within a five-minute walk of our space, much less a 20-minute drive.  You can find really smart, engaged folks if you just look for it, rather than the easy solution like going to a town like New York or San Francisco.  This area is worth sticking around.”

For more information or to get help starting up your own small business, visit

Chops Barbershop

In a sea of chain hair salons and beauty parlors, finding an authentic barber who offers great cuts for a reasonable price in Harrisburg is easier said than done.  It’s doubly as difficult to track down a barber who will do a straight-razor shave.  But, at Chops Barbershop on South Front Street in the area of Shipoke, appointment-only customers can get both for $30.

“It’s a definitely a man’s space, but its female-friendly, too,” explains owner and master barber Chops DeRosier, 39.  “At Chops, we cut everybody’s hair.  It really is like a city barber.”

Chops Barbershop has a feel unlike any other hair-cutting joint in the area.  Inside DeRosier’s shop, there is a palpable sense of a bygone era transplanted into a hip environment.  And, most days, patrons will find DeRosier sporting a shirt and tie as he expertly wields the scissors, clippers and straight razor – there is even one of those twirling blue, red and white barber’s pole at the entrance.

DeRosier outlines what makes his business unique.  “Good service for one.  Good haircuts, and most places don’t do the neck shave. Just the little things that traditional barbers have done for centuries that they don’t do anymore.”

The origin of Chops Barbershop sparked to life during DeRosier’s previous career as a truck driver.  “I had problems getting a haircut,” he recalls.  “That was my main thing – I couldn’t find somewhere to cut my hair, and I used to have really nice hair before it started falling out.  That is where it started.  I always wanted to get into it, but I guess I didn’t realize that you could just do this and not all the other stuff.  So as soon as I found out you could go to barber school, I went probably a month later.  That’s how quick it was.  I cashed in my retirement and went to barber school.”

For a year, DeRosier worked at a few hair places right out of barber school before setting out on his own.  His first shop was in Steelton, which he then relocated to its current location in Harrisburg.

“This was my dream, this shop,” DeRosier says.  “I pretty much did everything I wanted to do.  I wanted two barbers just doing this all day long and selling product, which we do.  We also make our own pomade, shave soap, all natural stuff, shave cream, women’s shave scrub and mustache wax.”

In business, especially small business, achieving the entrepreneurial dream envisioned when first starting out is the definition of success.  So what continues to motivate DeRosier?

“The sheer joy of cutting hair keeps me going,” he says.  “I really like doing this.  It is something I always really wanted to do, and I can do it in my own place.  Also the customers are awesome.  I feel like I am part of the community.”

For more information or to book an appointment at Chops, visit

Abrams & Weakley

General Store for Animals

For nearly three decades, Abrams & Weakley on N. 6th Street has been a neighborhood staple in Harrisburg, well known among pet-owning patrons for their dedication to quality and service.

“We sell the best in pet healthcare,” states Kristen Zellner, owner of Abrams & Weakley since 2009.  “All of the foods, supplements and treats have to meet certain requirements in order for us to bring them in the store.”

The general store for animals also offers grooming, dog-training and pet-food-delivery services.

In 1985, Beth Abrams and Judy Weakley opened the small general store for animals.  The pair ran it together until the mid-1990s when Abrams sold her share to Weakley.  In 2006, Kristen Zellner, who had previously been earning a living as a counselor for children with behavioral issues, came on as an employee to help Weakley as her health began to weaken.

“We became friends, and she was like my mom,” says Zellner.  “She didn’t have family, and when she talked about passing the business on and having it continue running after she retired, we discussed me buying the business from her and me paying her off over the following five years.”

Two years later, Weakley’s health rapidly declined.  “At that point, we decided that I would give her a down payment, and I would pay her off in the next four to five years,” explains Zellner.  “After that business decision, she passed away on April 18, 2009, and she left me the business in her will because she had no family.”

But she did have family in Zellner.

“We do things that honor Judy,” Zellner says. “Her wishes were to not sell certain products or chemicals and things like that.  We won’t do it because she taught me how to do things naturally, and I try to carry on the way she would want the business run.  She is still alive through the business.  Beth Abram’s is still in the area, and she comes in to check on us, too.”

Since Zellner took over the reins of Abrams & Weakley, the business has grown. “We stock a lot more stuff, more variety,” she says.  “I took the risk of spending some more money.  Word of mouth about the business grew and grew.  People came back to shop here that forgot about us.  There was just this energy to it.  …I think business pretty much tripled, though I don’t know if that was just me.  I think it is many different factors.”

Zellner is quick to credit the folks she works alongside as well as the legacy Weakley left behind.  “They have been with me since I took the store over,” she smiles.  “They are awesome.  I couldn’t work with a better group of people.  I am so blessed by what Judy Weakley gave me.  I have a picture of her on the cash register, so she is always there.”

For Zellner, the best part about owning a small business is the people and the community.  “They are awesome, and their are pets, too,” she says.  “I see the people that come into my store, and it is like we are all in this together, and there is this huge movement toward shopping small and local.  It’s a great tight-knit group of people.  I think that is what makes the business.  I don’t come to work every day and then go home; I come to my home every day.”

For more information about Abrams & Weakley, visit

Fennec Design

Joelle Workman and Justin Arawjo, co-owners of Fennec Design in Harrisburg, both had parents who were into the arts as well as small business.  Workman’s father owned a slide-photography business and a landscaping business.

Arawjo’s parents were accomplished basket weavers with work that hangs in museums.  So it felt natural for them both to open a small business based on the art they created together.

Workman, 24, describes the product offered by Fennec Design.  “It is a design studio, and we focus a lot on screen printing, which is generally the medium we work in,” she explains.  “We offer a lot of custom illustration work and things like that, but always with the focus that that work can then be screen printed.  We offer a lot of custom screen printing and design, as well as our own line of clothing and jewelry sold in various boutiques, wholesale and online.”

Last month, Fennec launched a new line of 45 items consisting primarily of screen-printed clothing for winter as well as a series of intimates and jewelry.

In addition to inheriting an entrepreneurial spirit from their parents, being their own bosses was another key component in their combined dream of small-business ownership.  “I think we both like to do stuff on our own terms,” Workman says.  “We definitely work more hours than we ever did at a 9-to-5 job. I like to say I have the worst boss I ever had, by far.  But if we want to go on a trip, we can be gone for a week-and-a-half, and that is not necessarily a choice we would have otherwise.”

Arawjo, 30, adds, “I think it comes down to a lot about being your own boss and being in charge of your own success or failure, and your own time.”

Arawjo measures business success not in financial achievement, but rather personal fulfillment.  “The way I define success is in terms of happiness, in terms of happiness for you and your family,” he says.  “Having a job that can sustain that and give me the flexibility to create is success.  …In a way, one of my big lifetime dreams has been fulfilled in that we can support ourselves doing this thing that we love, and people all over the world are into what we do enough to send us their money and wear our stuff.”

Both Workman and Arawjo see much potential in Harrisburg for small business.

“I think that Harrisburg has a mutually supportive community in a way that we haven’t experienced in other places,” she says.  “The reality is that, because it is a smaller town, you are not going to run into as many people doing exactly what you do.  It is much easier for people to feel comfortable supporting what you do, even if they are in the same field.  …I think there is a lot of potential for small business here.  The nice thing is you can get a lot of bang for your buck here as a small business.  Property and rentals are much more affordable here than they are other places.”

Arawjo agrees, “I think people are very supportive here.  Not just the community but the businesses themselves.  As designers and printers, we work with a lot of different local businesses, and people are really supportive in a way I haven’t seen in a big city like Philly.  I think that sense of community is really beneficial to a town, and Harrisburg has it.”

For more information or to peruse Fennec Design’s wares, visit