Entrepreneur hopes to open girls' eyes to opportunities

? Galewood resident wants to make her nonprofit gift shop into a center for mentoring teen girls.

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Like most entrepreneurs, Traci Weathers wants to attract her target demographic?#34;in her case teenage girls?#34;to her clothes, makeup and accessories shop. She hopes they buy the handbags, nail polish and other items that reflect "the hottest trends" stocked in Eye Openers, 7017 W. North Ave., which opened Feb. 26.

But unlike most business owners, Weathers doesn't stand to make a dime off the purchases.

Eye Openers is a nonprofit company that Weathers hopes will draw girls in with fashion and fun, then keep them with esteem- and career-building opportunities like having an entrepreneur mentor or being a voice actor in audio dramas.

"I would hate to lose someone who could be the next Martha Stewart, or Oprah, or Condoleezza Rice," Weathers said.

A record-producer friend will help turn performances of skits she wrote (for girls, 13 to 20 years old) into compact discs, which will air on gospel radio WBGX-AM 1570. Weathers hopes other friends in other fields will provide similar opportunities for girls.

She writes a monthly newsletter for teen girls called "Eye Alert," in which she advertises the opening of the store, youth activities, and the Glass Slipper Project, an organization that provides free prom dresses and accessories to high school girls.

For her part, Weathers will have girls work at the store?#34;not in the stockroom or selling the merchandise, but observing all aspects of how a business is conceived, realized and run. She calls the on-the-job learning "creative education."

"They need to see the process step by step. I don't want them to just see the end result" of starting a business, Weathers said. She hopes to help the girls start businesses of their own.

Eye Openers isn't the first retail shop she's owned. She had The Refinery Suite at Harlem and Chicago avenues, which closed a year ago. That shop was geared to adult women.

"I wanted something a little more trendy, a little more hip," Weathers said.

Eye Openers is established as an Illinois nonprofit corporation, meaning all profits will go back into building the company. Weathers draws no pay for her work at the shop or putting together the newsletter. She works full-time in the marketing and business development department at the Chicago Academy of Sciences.

She's working to grow the outreach and service aspects of Eye Openers, which will happen once she gets a better grasp of what girls are looking for, Weathers said. She hopes to one day get tax-exempt status.

Weathers has gotten the Eye Alert newsletter out to girls in Galewood, where she lives, and made copies available at Chicago Public Schools and Oak Park and River Forest High School, but hasn't gotten much of a response yet.

"I'm sure it will be positive once the girls get to know us," she said.

Contact: dcarter@wjinc.com

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