After moving forward with plans she had as a teenager to open a clothing store, a downtown Chatham business owner has been awarded the Young Business Individual of the Year award by the Chatham-Kent Chamber of Commerce.
Tiffany Cunningham, owner of Prem on King Street West, said she had wanted her own store since she was 16 and had a business plan ready by the time she was 18. She went to business school, but spent much of the next few years living in different cities with her husband, who played professional hockey.
Along with traveling, Cunningham ran Mama Maria’s Ristorante, which was previously owned by her family, on and off for about 13 years.
“Then the lockout happened and we were closed, so I was forced to be home,” Cunningham said. “What better time than now? So, I worked on a whole new business plan and I figured out how to build myself a website and the rest is history.”
Prem started as an online business in October 2020. Cunningham planned to open a store in February or March 2021, but she delayed her plans until June 2021 due to the public health measures in place at the time.
Despite living in different cities for ten years, Cunningham said she always knew the store would be in downtown Chatham.
“I fell in love with every place, but I always knew at the end of the day that Chatham was where I wanted to be,” she said. “I was born and raised in Chatham-Kent and it’s home for me, so it’s nice to be able to bring it to Chatham.”
The name Prem is short for premature. Both of Cunningham’s daughters were born 11 weeks premature.
She has committed to donating some of the proceeds from her sales to the London Health Sciences Center for their neonatal intensive care unit, where her second daughter spent 71 days after birth.
“When I decided to start (the business), I wanted to give back to something that is so close to our hearts that literally saved my children’s lives,” Cunningham said.
In terms of the type of clothing she’s trying to sell, Cunningham said she doesn’t want to target a specific type of person. The store carries items that can help someone looking for a nice dress for an event or someone looking for comfortable loungewear, as well as some men’s clothing, she said.
Cunningham said she wasn’t sure how this effort would go at first because downtown was slow in June 2021, but she’s felt welcome since opening.
“There are so many people I’ve met who have opened a business downtown,” she said. “I think I know eight other businesses that have started just downtown since then, which is great. … Chatham is starting to come back to life downtown and will be even better in a few years.”
Prem currently has one other employee at the store.
Cunningham said she originally planned for a larger location. She decided to start small, but said she hopes to expand within the next few years.
The 134th Business Excellence Awards will be held Wednesday at the Chatham-Kent John D. Bradley Convention Center.