Downtown Business District Director Marie Kalita-Leary, who has worked on Main Street in one capacity or another since she was a girl, is leaving the agency in early June to become the new director of communications and public relations at Mercy High School, her alma mater.
Kalita-Leary said in a wide-ranging, eloquent and passionate farewell letter that she is proud of her accomplishments with the DBD, and she's excited to move on to a new phase in her career. She thanks those who have been invaluable to the DBD's efforts, and sums up the progress on Main Street in the past decade aptly: "We've come a long way, baby!"
We'll let her press release tell the story much better than we could:
May 25, 2011
It is bittersweet for me to write this newsletter as it will be my last one for the Downtown Business District. In early June, I will be leaving this position of Director of the DBD to take another turn in my career. My six and a half years at the DBD have been irreplaceable and fulfilling. Everyone involved with the DBD should be proud of the make up of Middletown’s Main Street and its newfound vitality. When I receive phone calls from other communities inviting me to speak on the topics of how Middletown brought back it’s Main Street and how we continue to have an energetic Main Street, I am flattered that they want to hear our story. When I visit such towns and other Main Streets, I see many empty storefronts, not many people on the sidewalks, and areas that lack luster and life. Then, I fully realize the progress on our Main Street and understand that, “We’ve come a long way, baby!”
Middletown’s renaissance did not happen over night - and it is still evolving - and it took the efforts of many individuals and groups to achieve a thriving Main Street. I would be remiss in not mentioning a few. The first on my list is YOU! - the people who work and own businesses deserve a round of applause. The employees of the downtown area keep Middletown on the map. All the “mom and pop” stores, restaurants, offices, and businesses bring people to Middletown. Please continue to work together – cross market – and support each other. Make an effort to know your neighbors as you will be amazed at the variety of items, services, and businesses offered in the DBD. For storefront businesses, I have this last chance to remind you to always sweep your sidewalk, keep the windows clean, and change your window displays on a routine basis! (sorry, some routines are hard to break) Be proud of your Main Street! It is fantastic to see the sightsof ...people waiting in line for restaurants...filled shopping bags being placed in a car... a child ‘keeping the beat’ as musical entertainment is played outside... a pair of Seniors walking with ice cream comes in hand...or the happy jogger waving to everyone he knows.
I have had the opportunity to work with many City of Middletown Departments. It has been a pleasure and I thank them all for their assistance, recommendations and guidance: Mayor Giuliano and his office staff, the members of the Common Council, Alarms Division, Arts and Culture, Building Division, Consumer Protection, Finance and Revenue, Fire, Parking, Parks and Recreation, Planning, Conservation and Development, Police, Public Works, Risk Management, and Tax Assessor. It is remarkable to have so many city departments working in conjunction with a private organization such as the DBD. Believe me, when I mention this to other towns, they are surprised at how and why we keep each other informed and how well we work together.
I thank the DBD Board of Commissioners for volunteering their time for the sake of Middletown’s success. These busy individuals use precious (unpaid) time to ‘chart the course’ to keep the vitality of Main Street continuous and to embark on new ventures. This summer, the DBD celebrates its 10th Anniversary. OK, we don’t have a huge party planned, but an organizational study is in the works! Last Fall, when I presented to the Board this concept for a grant, I know they were not jumping for joy over the idea of the study. However, we were all pleased to learn that we received the $10,000 grant and the Board agreed to participate in the study. In life, we surely don’t know why some things happen. Was it fate that we were awarded the grant at this time? I look at it now and think it is perfect timing. With my departure and the study underway, the Board can step back, review the study results in late summer and early fall, and set forth plans for 2012 and beyond!
For over a decade, both the Main St. Middletown Office and the DBD Office were housed in the Chamber of Commerce building. The Chamber staff was always so kind and helpful to all the DBD staff. Even though we were not Chamber employees, we were treated as if we were. And I especially thank Larry McHugh for his support, guidance, and his positive, upbeat demeanor. He certainly believes in and supports our renewed Main Street.
I believe that I am leaving the DBD with a great staff in place. My first task at the DBD was to create the Main Street Guide Program. Over the past six years we have had a fantastic group of Main Street Guides. I was amazed how David Liniak memorized the bus schedules and many phone numbers of downtown restaurants so he could quickly inform visitors or make reservations for them. Dennis Fennessy was my first Mr. Fix-it. Many people must remember Dennis lugging our water wagon up and down Main St. as that was the way to get water to the floral planters back then. Dennis was always willing to take on any new duty as the role of Main Street Guides changed. Stew Kristiansen was surely the calmest Guide we had – nothing was going to ruffle his feathers – he handled every problem with diplomacy. Jim Murray worked for us for six years and always had a kind word to say or tell us the cliché his mother or father said to him in a certain situation. Ken Marszalek did not need an introduction to Main Street - everyone knew Kenny! He was quick to know the beat of Main Street. Today, Shane Grant and Donna Warner are our Main Street Guides. Shane, overflowing with energy, lives and works in Downtown Middletown. He takes personal pride in making sure this area looks the best it can. You will see him painting kiosks, gum busting (removing gum from sidewalks) or taking his bike to deliver DBD brochures to Wesleyan. On Saturdays, Donna is walking the District and assisting everyone from a business owner to a four year old visitor. She is a task master and won’t stop until all is done. I still hope to call Julie Rodrigues, currently my administrative assistant, my friend after I leave the DBD! Julie posts all events and notices to the DBD web site, keeps the office fully organizational and operational, and is delighted to sell anyone a Downtown Middletown Gift Card. She has agreed to “hold down the fort” until an interim Director is hired. Keep sending your emails, dropping off posters, and leaving voice messages as Julie will keep the office running in tip top shape, I am sure. But, please have patience as she will certainly be very busy.
During my final weeks in this position, I have been wrapping up a few projects and I think you will be very pleased with the results. Over the past years, Sandy Aldieri of Perceptions Photography has been taking pictures of the DBD. These photos allow us to generate seasonal Discover Main Street Brochures. The summer edition is in the final draft stage as we welcome four new businesses to Main St.
This spring, I had the opportunity to work with a group of Middlesex Community College Students on their class project. This summer you will see the benefits of their endeavor. Along with the Welcome Back Wesleyan Poster, you will be able to post a Welcome Middlesex Students poster. One student in the MxCC group was shocked to learn that all it took was one turn of her car after leaving the MxCC campus to get to Main St. I learned that many students thought Main St. was very far from campus – a view they held by only looking at exit signs on the highway. We now have a direct line of communication with MxCC. The DBD will have informational materials at their student orientation. In addition, we hope to promote MAT (Middletown Area Transit.) Students can leave their cars on campus, hop a bus to Main St. for coffee, lunch or shopping and return to campus via bus to get their car. Thousands of people attend MxCC and we would love to have them visit Main Street before or after their classes!!
We launched our Downtown Middletown Gift Card in the middle of the blizzard of 2011. Our trainer was scheduled to work with us for 4.5 days – ultimately, I saw her for less than 10 hours. She didn’t arrive on Monday because her flight was canceled due to the snow out west. She got the next available flight on Tuesday and we met for a few hours. Wednesday, it snowed and snowed, and snowed. As soon as we were able on Thursday, we met and activated as many businesses as possible and then she flew out on Friday morning. The next Monday, January 17th, the system went live. Since then, $15,400.00 worth of gift cards has been sold. YEAH, the program is a success!!! Now, we need to take the next step – on-line sales. We are almost finished with our new page for the DBD website. People will be able to purchase on-line Downtown Middletown Gift Cards, ranging from $10.00 to $500.00, and the cards will be delivered to the purchaser or recipient. This will make gift giving a cinch – especially for family members who live out of state and families of Wesleyan students. Check the web site in a few weeks to see how easy it is to order a Downtown Middletown Gift Card.
As I write this, a marketing piece for the gift card is in production. A dynamite folder to hold the gift card, agreement form, and our Discover Main Street brochure is being produced. There is an additional flap to hold information, for example, a special event flyer, coupons, or other promotional materials. The back cover contains the answers to FAQs (frequently asked questions) that concern the gift card. Everything placed together in a nice tidy package makes for an excellent gift presentation.
The way finding sign package (location/directional signs) was sent to bid this Spring. The Board will be working on plans to see this come to fruition. I know I won’t see the signs erected in the next few weeks or months, but I hope the completion of this project is in the not too distant future.
For the past few years, we had Artists at Riverview during the summer weekends. This event allowed handmade craft vendors to sell their wares and for musicians to provide music to outside diners and visitors to Main St. This year, the project is being spearheaded by the Commission on the Arts and the City Arts and Culture Office. The DBD will purchase the ‘stalls’ to house the arts organizations that are being booked at this time. The event is now entitled Arts Walk at Riverview Plaza. Pass on the information as grants are available this year. Arts organizations should contact Stephan at 860-343-6620 x201 for more info.
The final project is our Main Street Wi-Fi. The new updated and fast Wi-Fi system is available south of Washington St. through the South Green. With the collapse of 505 Main, also went the collapse of our farthest north antenna. Charles Computer Services is our vendor and they promise to have the new system, from Washington St. north to O’Rourkes Diner, completed by mid-June. Upon completion, this will allow smart phone, PDA, and laptop users, who are on Main Street, to connect to the internet via the free Wi-Fi system that is provided by the DBD.
Please do not be surprised when you continue to see me in the District as I will continue to live and work in Middletown. In my new position, I will be the Director of Communications and Public Relations at Mercy High School, my alma mater. It is my turn to ‘pay it forward,’ and assist the school in continuing to provide a quality education for today’s young women while the institution itself prepares for the future.
During my senior year of high school, I started a part-time after-school job here on Middletown’s Main Street and I have continued to hold a full time, part time or summer/seasonal job on Main St. for the past 37 years. Over those years, I have seen many changes in the area and it is fulfilling to know that I have been a participant in the revival of our Main Street. I am grateful to each and every person who helped me and worked with me. I enjoy all that Downtown Middletown has to offer and I wish you well. Thank you for your dedication and hard work. Keep working together to make Downtown Middletown the great place it’s meant to be!