COMMUNITY GEMS: Sylvia Chess, owner of African Utopia Boutique, an advocate for small businesses

Sylvia Chess, originally from Texas, is lighting a spark in downtown Fairborn with the help of other small business owners and community members.

“It’s not about Sylvia. It’s about team Fairborn,” said Sylvia, who was nominated as a Dayton Daily News Community Gem.

Sylvia operates Xtra Pro-Dev 101, a trucking company also offering commercial driver’s license lessons, along with the newly-opened African Utopia Boutique. Both are located on the 400 block of Main Street in Fairborn.

“Fairborn has been phenomenal, and the surrounding areas... have been phenomenal supporting this store,” Sylvia said.

Sylvia and her husband, James D. Chess, III, came to Ohio about three years ago because of the company Sylvia was working with in Texas transferred her to Fairborn, which is where her husband was from originally.

“My husband has supported every dream that I have had,” Sylvia said.

“Her vision of what this building could be turned into something different altogether,” said James, an Air Force veteran. “It has grown to what you see it as today...I just support her as much as possible.”

While she’s been building her businesses, Sylvia has also been showing support to other small businesses down Main Street and in Fairborn. Sylvia organized events to showcase other businesses, including a fashion show to highlight a new event center and other local small businesses that raised money for a nonprofit that works with autistic children.

“In the fashion show, somebody said, ‘Well, you need models,’” Sylvia said. Sylvia decided to use models who represented a variety of people, including people with different body types, people of different races and ethnicities, and people of different ages and abilities.

“We have to get back to loving each other,” Sylvia said.

Sylvia also partnered with local videographer David Michael on creating videos for her trucking business in addition to videos involving fashion shoots for her boutique.

“I didn’t feel like part of the downtown business community until I met Sylvia Chess,” Michael said, who also co-owns a realty office with his wife.

“She has created a spark in our downtown that we haven’t seen in some time,” said city manager Rob Anderson, who nominated Sylvia for as a Dayton Daily News Community Gem. “If you really want to see something get done, just tell Sylvia she can’t do it.”

She has connected other small businesses to space downtown, such as for Other by Imi, LLC, owned by Imi Bowden, who is a fashion designer and artist who also offers alterations. Bowden had previously operated her business out of her home before moving into space on Main Street near African Utopia Boutique.

“She’s brought us all together,” Bowden said.

Sylvia also partnered with massage therapist Janet Thompson, previously offering massage certificates to people who spend more than $50 at African Utopia Boutique. Thompson said Sylvia is always offering a lending hand.

“Sylvia’s energy is infectious,” Thompson said. “You want to be around her. Sylvia is bringing the Fairborn community together.”

Clint Allen, city council member, echoed similar comments about Sylvia’s energy, saying phrase, “Iron sharpens iron.”

“That’s what I feel Sylvia Chess and James Chess do. They are not only just visionaries, they’re influencers in this community,” Allen said.

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by big businesses, Allen said, adding the only way small businesses are going to

Sylvia is putting together a committee for an event called 100 Women in Hats, currently targeting it for October, during which people will visit businesses downtown.

The support of small businesses is needed, she said, in order to keep cities alive.

“If we don’t support each other, our towns are going to die,” Sylvia said.

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