Lexington’s women-owned businesses thrive during the pandemic

Downtown Lexington is dominated by women-run businesses. Three female owners say that mutual support in the community has driven their success


Electric Pilates is one of several women-owned businesses that opened in the past two years. Photo courtesy of Kevin Remington.

Mimi Sherrill

COVID-19 forced many small businesses to alter their plans and change their visions. Three women-owned businesses in Lexington discovered the best way to stay afloat during the pandemic: supporting each other. 

Local women-owned businesses Electric Pilates, Lizzie’s of Lexington and Heliotrope Brewery all opened within the last two years. The women at the helm of each business said they were eager to bring new energy to Lexington, but none could have anticipated the pandemic. 

Despite Lexington’s size, its close-knit community has found plenty of ways to support local women-owned and minority businesses. A majority of downtown businesses are women-owned, and local owners say they do their best to support one another. 

Lexington’s many women owners are also supported by Main Street Lexington, a non-profit organization that supports the city’s small business community.

The following three profiles show how women-run businesses spanning a variety of industries have found success amid the pandemic through a culture of mutual support:

When Electric Pilates owner Courtney May Cabaniss moved back to Lexington in the fall of 2018, she was looking for a new beginning. 

“I came back here not wanting to come back here,” Cabaniss said. 

After working for a few businesses downtown, Cabaniss said she knew it was time to do her own thing. She took a leap of faith this fall and opened Electric Pilates, a heated exercise studio that offers a variety of pilates and yoga classes. 

“I love Lexington, but it’s behind in a lot of ways,” Cabaniss said. “I think an injection or infusion of youth and new ways of thinking about things and being inclusive and inviting is another form of community that I didn’t feel here.” 

Cabaniss said her experience working in Lexington before she opened Electric Pilates allowed her to learn from other successful women in the community. She said she truly believes in women supporting women. 

She said that support is shown through actions rather than words.  

“ I am my own competition, and I want to be better and better every day,” Cabaniss said.  “Collaboration is where it’s at. It’s not about competition, it’s collaboration.”

Jenefer Davies opened Heliotrope Brewery in December of 2019, just months before the pandemic forced them to temporarily close their doors. 

“The very basis of our philosophy was creating a neighborhood place where people could gather,  talk and create

Heliotrope opened right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Photo by Lilah Kimble, ’23.

a sense of community, and that was the antithesis of COVID,” Davies said.


Although COVID-19 changed their plans, Davies said the Lexington community supported her business through the difficult times of the pandemic. 

“People were so great and so generous to us,” Davies said. “There were some people who ordered every week no matter what. And that’s really what kept us going.”

Davies said they go to other local businesses routinely to get advice and knowledge that comes only with experience over time. 

Davies is also the artistic director at the Washington and Lee Repertory Dance Company. But she has weaved a web of connection that extends beyond W&L’s campus and into the Lexington community. 

She said Heliotrope sources their produce from local farmers and constantly supports and engages with other women-run businesses frequently. 



Lizzie’s of Lexington has been open for just over two years. Photo by Shauna Muckle, ’24.

Lizzie’s of Lexington opened in October of 2019 after Liz Murphy fell in love with Lexington during her son’s time at Virginia Military Institute. 

Murphy moved to Lexington five years ago from South Florida, eager to share her passion for interior design and unique pieces with the community. Her shop carries a wide range of beautiful mirrors, jewelry boxes, handmade artwork and luxury body care lines. 

Murphy said her local neighbors were very welcoming when she opened her shop. She said they brought flowers and notes to welcome her to town. 

Main Street Lexington also helped Murphy get off the ground running, she said. 

“Main Street Lexington was wonderful in providing me guidance and assistance with the intricacies of opening a small business,” Murphy said. 

Murphy said opening her business shortly before the pandemic has been challenging, but it is worth it to give back to the community that continues to help her in so many ways. 

Murphy said her business is not alone in its success. 

“I am surprised at the amount of women-owned businesses in the community,” Murphy said. “I think there is a strong effort to support women and minority businesses in town.”