Four years ago, Bethesda Magazine wrote about area women who were reinventing themselves in order to better accommodate growing families. How have they fared during a challenging economy? We caught up with three of them.

For Potomac’s Martha Lechner Spak, a desire to be home with her two children—now 17 and 20—and a love of painting led to a bold move. A self-taught painter who previously worked in marketing for Discovery Communications, Spak became a full-time artist about 15 years ago, working out of a studio in her home.

Today at 50, she sells her work for $495 to $5,000, often to corporate clients. Besides showing in select galleries and home stores, as well as at art fairs, she displays and sells it on her website, For the past two years, she has been a painting instructor at the Yellow Barn Studio and Gallery in Glen Echo Park. She’s now a resident artist at the Capitol Arts Network in Rockville.

Her artwork has evolved along the way. These days the imagery tends to be looser and more abstract, she says.

Spak also launched a website ( in May 2011 for artists to submit works for juried competitions held online every six weeks. The artists pay a fee, and qualified judges are hired from a pool of area artists. The winners are able to promote their work across social media, thereby widening their audience and potential sales.

It’s yet another way in which Spak combines marketing acumen with her artistic side.


“I enjoy straddling both the business and creative aspects of my own small company in the art world,” Spak says.

Amy Hugo, a mother of four, left her position at Fannie Mae in 2008 and partnered with friend Angela Malkin to launch Amethyst, a boutique jewelry shop in downtown Bethesda. Today, Hugo is the sole owner (Malkin sold her share and relocated to Boston). In April 2011, Hugo doubled the square footage of her Bethesda store by leasing space next door and adding a studio for an on-site goldsmith. A year ago, she opened a second store in Merrifield, Va., but had to close it shortly thereafter.

Hugo says a downturn in the economy has caused her to go back to a strenuous full-time consulting job requiring her to be in New York City four days a week while still running her store.


“It hasn’t been easy working full time, running a store and raising four children,” says Hugo, who has been going through a divorce. But “my kids love visiting the store and I love having them there,” she says.

Lyn Ermer was a corporate attorney when she decided to jettison the bigwig career and buy a knitting store in Bethesda 13 years ago. Her four children are now largely grown, but the 58-year-old Bethesda resident is still glad she made the switch.

It took a year for her store, Knit and Stitch=Bliss, to make a profit, and she says it has remained profitable most years, despite the recession and stiff competition from the Internet. The store continually evolves, she says, with some 70 to 200 customers each week, ranging from teenagers to grannies, and a staff of 10 part-time employees.


“I’m so happy I did it,” Ermer says. “I tried to imagine my perfect job, and this is it. I love helping people find their creativity.”

When she first bought the store, Ermer was a beginning knitter. Now she’s a “high-intermediate level,” capable of modifying and customizing patterns. Her sweaters are often on display in the store to inspire customers.

“I haven’t missed being a lawyer for even a nanosecond,” Ermer says.


Click here to read “Fresh Start,” which ran in July/August 2009.