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Staunton entrepreneur finds her voice, overcomes mental health challenges

tracie steger skipper in downtown Staunton
Tracie Steger Skipper preps the 23 East Beverley Street Airbnb in Staunton for an overnight guest. Photo by Crystal Abbe Graham.

At 49, Tracie Steger Skipper is “on top of the world,” making a name for herself in Staunton.

Anxiety, depression and a lack of self-confidence may have defined the last two decades of her life, but Skipper is looking to paint a different picture of herself moving forward – having discovered her voice and passion – and there appears to be no limit to how far she will go in life and in her business pursuits.

Skipper, known for her superb technical abilities in the theater and for her years in window sales and construction, is re-inventing herself at age 49: as a mental health advocate, property manager, house flipper, realtor, travel agent, political activist and overall, a mover and shaker in the City of Staunton.

Having worked in more than one toxic work environment, Skipper was beat down and constantly questioning how she got where she was in her career and personal life. One day, she decided she had enough, and she felt empowered to change the direction of life.

“I’ve always had this drive. It’s just been stifled for so many different reasons, especially through my mental health challenges,” Skipper told AFP, sitting in a worn leather chair in the Star Party Winery tasting room. “You know, it’s something having mental health challenges, and then getting well and overcoming them to a point where you can have the self-confidence to know that you’re capable of doing it.”

Skipper said she has dealt with severe anxiety and depression all her life – conditions that run in her family. Finding the right treatment and the right support system and cutting off things in her life that triggered her has given her back her sense of worth and her drive and determination.

“They’ve (counselors and mental health professionals) helped me with my body, and with my mind, and just having the right medication and the right treatment programs really, really changed my attitude and being mentally and physically healthy.”

She’s become an advocate for others who are struggling – encouraging employees to speak up for themselves in the workplace and even taking others to get emergency treatment when they are in crisis.

Skipper has not only taken her power back, she is motivating others to speak up when things are wrong.

“I’m so glad that I get to talk to people about speaking up about it and being able to make change themselves,” she said.

23 East Beverley Street

Skipper is a fixture on the Staunton scene today, saying hello to restaurant owners, patrons and even a muralist working in the city, on a short stroll downtown. She said that getting to know people in Staunton has happened through networking and conducting due diligence on potential investment properties.

Her business partner, Mike Gutzler, lives in Fairfax, and since their first phone conversation, an interview, actually, he has pushed Skipper to grow professionally.

Skipper, originally from Buckingham County, wasn’t your average “girl” in high school. She didn’t want to learn keyboarding, she wanted to learn the building trade and had to get special permission to enroll in classes in school. She learned construction basics that eventually helped her in theater, but in later years, picked up more skills to add to her resume, including plumbing.

While she’s most recognized in Waynesboro and Staunton for her theater work, she also spent 15 years in construction and even tried her hand at sales, working for Pella Windows and Doors.

As a set designer and avid watcher of HGTV today, she has an eye for interior design, including color and spacing, which has proved invaluable in this new phase of her life.

Gutzler, someone Skipper now considers family, hired her first as a property manager and later trusted her with several residential property flips. He encouraged her to get her real estate license and has now partnered with her on the 23 East Beverley Street property, where he provides the funding, and she provides the “sweat equity,” managing the restoration, upkeep and rentals for the former Emilios/Pompei Lounge location.

The building undertook massive renovations and has been transformed into the Star Party Winery skybar and tasting room, two studio apartments and two Airbnbs. The location is also rented by another woman entrepreneur who operates Slyde 23, a new restaurant and bar in the bustling downtown area, which opened earlier this year.

tracie steger skipper in Downtown Staunton Airbnb
Tracie Steger Skipper putting in sweat equity at a downtown Airbnb she co-owns. Photo by Crystal Abbe Graham.

Dreams do come true

All of this is on top of Skipper’s 40- to 60-hour week at the American Shakespeare Center and her pursuit of continuing education to get her real estate license active again.

“I missed construction when I was doing theater, and I missed theater when I was doing construction,” she said. “I always dreamed that I could have both.”

Dreams apparently do come true.

“It feels wonderful. It makes me so happy to have my hands in everything and also to get to know Staunton and to become a name in Staunton, which I’ve been able to do,”

Skipper spent two decades in Charlottesville before moving her family to Staunton for her job at ASC.

In addition to making a name for herself in the business world, she’s also jumped into local politics, serving as the secretary for the Staunton Democratic Committee.

“We’ve been able to enact a lot of change, I think, in Staunton on the City Council, and with getting people out to vote, and every day it just gets better,” she said. “We’re doing more and more things. We’re trying to revamp the young Democrats in the Staunton-Augusta-Waynesboro area. And we are getting ready to do another candidates forum for the new candidates for this election. And then gearing up for the big election next year.”

Her immediate goal for the future is to get her real estate license restored and jump back into the real estate game.

“I’m pretty content right now,” she said. “But I don’t think I’ll ever be satisfied. There’s always going to be something else I want to do.

“I feel like I’m on top of the world, but I’m gonna be honest with you, sometimes I’m afraid to say it.”

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.