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Seneca County Women’s Coalition names Becky Bly its Woman of the Year

This article originally appeared on the Finger Lakes Times on March 9, 2024 and is being republished here with permission. Congratulations Becky!

Rebecca “Becky” Bly is a woman of action who’s not afraid to speak her mind.

The longtime Seneca Falls resident who runs WomanMade Products on Fall Street — and has her fingers in the mix of myriad civic organizations — is being honored March 16 as the Seneca County Women’s Coalition 2023 Woman of the Year.

Rebecca Bly of Seneca Falls

Adriene Emmo nominated Bly for the honor, calling her “a powerhouse member of our community” in her nomination letter. The Seneca Falls Town Board also recognized Bly at its meeting Tuesday when it passed a resolution recognizing her community commitment.

Bly, 71, was born in Des Moines, Iowa, and arrived in Seneca Falls in 1991 by way of Long Island, where she had run a feminist book store and T-shirt business. However, the advent of the mega-bookstores spelled difficulty, and a friend (Linda Canzanelli, former superintendent of the National Women’s Rights Park) suggested she consider a move to Seneca Falls, telling Bly “things are happening in Seneca Falls; it’s a feminist address for a feminist business.”

Bly’s business at 91 Fall St. is her third location here. WomanMade Products is both a women-themed gift shop and T-shirt printing business that Bly believes is one of the most photographed buildings in Seneca Falls — with its female-centric sign on the main drag in the birthplace of women’s rights.

For her, the store has been more than a business; it’s a place to empower women and girls. In addition to selling her own T-shirt designs, the retail shop carries books, novelty items, handcrafted jewelry and other items, woven baskets and fair trade offerings from around the world that benefit women and girls.

“So many times women come in not knowing what they’ll see,” Bly said. “Then you see a light bulb go off in their head and they’ll get a little proud, like, Yeah, sister!”

Although Seneca Falls may be a “feminist address,” it is a small town. Bly said at first — without children or attending a church — it was a little difficult to find community here. But, being in business gave her an opportunity to meet people, as did her outgoing nature.

“I’m well-known now,” she joked.

Case in point: During the interview for this story, a passerby tucked her head inside a downtown coffee shop to congratulate Bly on her Woman of the Year honor.

Bly is past president and vice president of the Seneca Falls Downtown Business Association and smiled that she’s vice president of “pretty much everything” because she doesn’t want to be in charge, although she’s still happy to open her mouth and share her opinion.

She helped resuscitate the summer Canal Fest, now in its eighth year; has overseen and been a member of the It’s a Wonderful Life Committee that stages that December holiday weekend that brings thousands to Seneca Falls; has been a longtime board member of Seneca Community Players; and helped organize and bring the Woman’s March to Seneca Falls in January 2017.

Pet Project

Bly is currently vice president of the Seneca Falls Performing Arts Center, working hard to transform the former Seneca County House of Concern at 35 State St. into a multipurpose arts venue. The group launched a fundraising campaign last September, and Bly has chosen the project as the beneficiary of funds raised at this Woman of the Year dinner. It’s the community project that excites her the most right now, especially when she can don a hard hat and help oversee demolition with a committed group of volunteers from ITT Goulds Pumps.

“We’ve come a long way, but we’re looking for money,” she said. “I’m very happy about the fact that it’s underway and that the town and people seem very receptive of the idea and will hopefully support it. Because there is no gathering place (like this in Seneca Falls).”

The project is visualized in two parts: construction of an annex first, then the creation of the building’s Great Hall that will house a flexible, 185-seat performance space with state-of-the-art theatrical equipment and a handicapped-accessible stage. Provided that fundraising goals are achieved, the target date for opening the Great Hall is 2025.

Although action is her calling card, Bly admits she is ready to retire and would love to find a buyer to continue her business. She and her wife, Rachel Weil, own a house in Florida; Bly said she’d like to enjoy it more, as well as more rounds of golf, dabbling in construction projects, and traveling.

However, it’s abundantly clear sitting still is not her nature. Bly unabashedly describes herself as a leader, idea person, and someone who “shakes and moves.” Emmo agrees; in her nomination letter she wrote “Becky has many great ideas and I have always found that she is front and center helping people and many organizations.”

“I’m not gonna stop doing what I’m doing if I’m still here,” Bly said.

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