It hit Zia Boccaccio as she walked onstage to accept her award for Small Business of the Year from the Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce: she was living the American dream.
"All of a sudden it became very clear to me," Boccaccio said. "I realized I have come a long way."
Boccaccio immigrated to the United States about 25 years ago from Cusco, Peru and initially worked as a sales associate for Steilmann's in Washington DC.
Today she owns five stores called Alpaca International—inlcuding her flagship location at 206 Main St.—and a wholesale business that both specialize in fashionable clothing made from Alpaca wool.
"I wanted to introduce Alpaca as a fashion staple," Boccaccio said. "I knew the tremendous potential of the product that was still relatively unknown in the U.S."
Alpaca wool, which Boccaccio calls the gold of the Andes, is made from the fur of an Alpaca—a Llama like animal. It's hypoallergenic, naturally water-repellent and soft to the touch.
She opened her Main Street store eight years ago and sells everything from socks and scarfs starting at $30 up to full length coats that cost $2,000. The store carries both men's and women's fashions.
"My initial goal was to open one new store per year, but the economy crashed," Boccaccio said.
That hurt the wholesale side of her business as boutiques across the country scaled back their orders. She's now focused on making sure her five locations in Annapolis, Utah, Alaska, Washington DC and Cusco thrive.
Boccaccio also focuses her energy on a variety of charitable events that she participates in throughout the year.
"To me it's very important to give back to the community," Boccaccio said. "It's a moral obligation."
She plans to debut her winter collection at the second annual High Society Fashion Show to support the Bay Theatre Company on Nov. 2. The show will be held at the Loews Annapolis Hotel, and tickets cost $100 per person or $720 for a table of eight.
Boccaccio's combination of business success and charitable work is what earned her the Small Business of the Year award, said Bob Burdon, the chamber's president.
"It means that this particular individual and business have exemplified several different areas of success," Burdon said. "Not only growing their business and monetary success, but how the business has engaged within the broader community."
Boccaccio reflected on her life thus far as "an amazing journey" that started as dream she had as a young girl in the Peruvian mountains.
"The idea for my store was an idea I always had in me," Boccaccio said. "It's become the passion of my life."