Amy Gaffney, a Class of 2003 VCHS alumna, has been immersed in small business since she was six years old. Growing up, her mother owned a real estate brokerage, her stepfather had a feed and grain business, and her grandpa had multiple businesses and did spec houses and rentals as well. Steeped in this enterprising ecosystem, it was only natural that Amy would lean into an entrepreneurial life, too.
Business-builders like Amy are a rare breed, a blend of boundless creative energy, agile adaptability, and a kind of confidence that, from the outside, can sometimes look like pure madness. But from inside the moving vehicle, it feels as natural as flipping your blinker and merging into traffic. Amy merged into that traffic when she initially launched the Copper Penny in 2011. She was just 25 years old. Six years later, unable to come to satisfactory terms for purchasing the building, she opted to close down the Copper Penny and take a great job working for food service giant, Sysco, in St. Louis. In her role there, she was meeting and ably serving restaurateur after restaurateur, but her own inner restaurateur was clamoring to be released.
Now, some may say that luck is a random thing. Others have said that luck follows preparation. But then there are people like Amy Gaffney, who make their own luck out of opportunities they nudge into alignment. Over the next twelve months, three things happened in the opportune world of our protagonist: 1) She got a call from Mike Radliff, FNB Bank President and former regular at The Copper Penny (he’s a Smashburger guy). Mike’s cousin, Rick, and his wife, Cindy had recently become the new owners of Witness Distillery, and Mike wanted to know if Amy could help them pair an upscale casual restaurant with their operation. 2) After seeing dozens of restaurants which looked like operations she could probably improve upon, Amy quit her job at Sysco and returned to Vandalia to build Blind Society. 3) The former landlord of the space previously occupied by the Copper Penny became a motivated seller, so she purchased the building and relaunched The Copper Penny.
As Amy nudged those opportunities into place and executed her plan, downtown Vandalia became a little more interesting, a little jazzier. And it’s not just her good restaurant sense that’s helping to make a difference in Vandalia. Amy also serves on the Board of the Chamber of Commerce, and is working with others to build on the community’s growing tourism economy and lend further support to Vandalia’s small businesses sector. One key item on the to-do list is to strengthen localized social media advocacy for local businesses, but that’s just one item on a long and creative to-do list.
I’ve been in a lot of small communities and in all 50 states. For years, I worked directly with the movers and shakers in local economies to help them promote their strengths and, believe me, I know the genuine article when I see it. Amy is a rare gem and someone who returns enormous value to this community. Her passion for each of her enterprises is contagious, and her creative execution is dizzying to behold.
During our conversation, I learned a lot about Amy and how she ticks— her energy, her obvious creativity, how she always felt safe here, and how she received an excellent education in Vandalia that prepared her well for whatever would come next. But in her closing remarks, I also learned something unexpected about her wellspring— the community of Vandalia itself. Turns out, it is very much just like her: resilient, adaptive, hardworking, and durable. It feels like an epiphany, but on reflection, I really shouldn’t be surprised.