How One Main Street Owns a Post Office and a B&B: Bridgette Kelch from Washington, MO
M: Hello, in this episode I talk to Bridgette Kelch from Washington, Missouri. She’s been their Main Street Director for over 18 years and they’ve done some pretty amazing things in that time. I recorded our pre-interview and it was so great that I just converted it into a real episode so we jump right in where I’m learning more about Bridgette and her downtown.
M: But yeah, such a fun job, and you’ve been in it a long time.
B: Yeah, sometimes I wonder, too long? But no. But I started right out of college so I’ll be 41 this month, but I’ve been here since I was 22.
M: Wow, you are dedicated.
B: Well, you know, I didn’t expect to be here but my passion is historic preservation so that’s what my degree is in. And I really thought I was going to work in a museum and now I kind of just view downtown as a big giant outdoor museum.
M: It kind of is, I mean in a lot of towns it actually could be.
B: Yeah and so then I liked it and I stayed and yeah we’ve grown a ton in that time frame. So starting out of, this year is 30 years for the organization, that we’ve been doing Main Street. We were a pilot program for Missouri in 1989. So I kind of always joke that they got through the really hard years you know, where you’re like struggling to find out who you are, what you’re going to do. And it was so hard when I started, I mean we were still playing the game of someone needs to pay their pledge so we can make payroll and those kinds of games. But yeah we’re past those points now, hopefully, so it’s exciting. We’ve been able to take on some pretty big projects. I think that’s one of the things that I’m most proud of, you know, we couldn’t find somebody to do what we wanted we did it ourselves.
M: Right. I’m very intrigued by the idea that you guys own and operate the post office and a B&B.
B: It was never planned, you know.
M: It never is.
B: Yeah it just came along, so I would say the majority of our growth has come since 2006. I started in 01, which is funny because that’s like right before the recession you know and we didn't feel that as much. I mean we certainly did feel it. But I don't think it's such big, you know such large swings in the Midwest. I think just by nature we're a more conservative bunch and so we don't feel those giant swings as much. And I could be wrong but that's how I view it. So 2006 you know we didn't really have a state program before that. And I mean there was one, I think I met the other managers or executive directors like once or twice and I really met a dynamic one and her name was Gayla Roten from Branson, Missouri and she kind of took me under her wing.
And then as the years rolled by, you know in 05, and we decided to start our own state program because we needed it. And so our statewide program, coordinating program, was started by the executive directors that were left standing. The state booted the program basically and so now you know she's our state director. She was just a local director and now she's our state director. I think we're in our 11th, no 12th year, yeah 12th year. And so I still serve on that state board and so I think you know getting involved at that level and then really just the folks that were doing Main Street in Missouri at that time, they were really following the rules and so that was the culture that I was kind of brought up in. And so we really embraced the four points and in 2006 was a big change for us was that we finally were reviewed for accreditation again and they had a National Main Street Center person on site and we thought we were doing great and we didn't get accredited that year.
M: Oh no.
B: And if for very good reasons. Of course, at the time I was really mad and upset and Gayla and I both cried over it but I think it was really kind of that spark that we needed to say, "OK let's look at ourselves. You know we've got to fix this." And then we really just started to fly and one of the biggest things was our board president at the time, he just took a huge stance and said, "Training, we have to go and attend training. And it can't just be the executive director going to these trainings and trying to come back and share it with us. We need a new initiative ourselves and go attend training." And so that was something that we put into a board contract, Kathy La Plante helped us with that. And we move forward and then around that time there was a building that had been owned by the city, that was owned by the chamber, and that was back in the city’s hands. And the Mayor is like, “we need to tear that down, so there’s more parking for the Catholic church.” You know small towns.
M: Oh, that sounds so familiar. That’s like right here, right now.
B: And so I don’t know how it happened, but it was after, I think it was around the time that the National Main Street, I still call it the National Town Meeting, whatever they call it now; the conference, was in Cincinnati and so they have it, we're a very German cultured area and one of my designs here had been on that, had gone to that national meeting and he just loved all their farmers markets and their over the Rhine area. And so he's like, "you know we could do something with that building." So he literally that day, you hear this but it's true, we sketched it on a napkin, because he's set up the napkin and it's framed and he went to the chamber and he said to the chamber exec and he's like, "What do you think?" Because our farmer's market wasn't downtown at that time, it was actually out in our fairgrounds, and so he convinced the chamber exec. The chamber exec didn't ever understand why all this didn't work well together. He's like, "I don't understand why you know we all don't work together."
I'm like I don't know. I just know for some reason that it's Rob with us and the city and I you know, I came in you know being born and raised here but not understanding the politics. So I think that was best of all old wounds you know. And so he really made a concerted effort he said, "you know if all three of us work on things together we're pretty unstoppable." And I was young and that and I was like, "yeah sure you know bring me along for the ride."
And so long story short somehow though my design chair and the Chamber exec convinced the mayor this was a good idea, that it was a joint project so we all were like well. So the city owned the property, it's our second oldest building on Main Street. And we did it together we turned it into a farmer's market and a civic Pavilion. So you have this 1856 building that was in atrocious shape. We did you know, we did put a pavilion around it so that wasn't staying exactly true to it, but it was a compromise you know for it to live long a longer life. And so it became our weekend farmer's market meets there and all the special events are out of there and now people get married and do all kinds of fun things under that. It's really an anchor on one side of our downtown.
And so the city put in 250 in kind and work and 250 in cash and the Chamber put in like 220 in cash, which is basically almost their whole savings. And we had no money, like nothing. So we wrote a grant to our, it's called Neighborhood Assistance Program it's something I think is specific to Missouri, but we were able to get approved and then we sold, basically sold tax credits and that's how we got our $250,000. And so as you know within kind of work it was definitely a million dollar project. And I say that and it's still not lost on me that that is a huge project. If you would have told me before that I would have said no we're too little, no we can't do that. And we did it, at the end of the day no one wanted to own the property and so we were like we'll own it. So we own the property and we lease the first level back to the city so they maintain the public restrooms and the event space when someone rents it. And then there's a second and third floor and we kind of just mothball that and I'll go faster if I talk too long.
There's kind of five projects that I'll roll out of it. So we mothball that second and third floor even though we know it's time. We're always saying redevelop your second and third floor for residential and we're like we're sitting on ours for the time being. At that time, our office is located in the oldest unique structure in the area, which is an 1834 log cabin and that's where our office had been since the mid 90s. Kind of you know, fun things in the Main Street world, that you know when the toilet water froze we got a day off. So a great building. So we're kind of rolling along and a few years later we kind of start here rumblings from the postal service that you know, we have a long history with the Postal Service. They initially tried in the 90s to close our downtown location and so saying it wasn't big enough for all the mail sorting and everything and so the town actually had banded together in the mid 90s and secured the property on either side and said This property is available we'll even help you buy it if you just stay downtown. And the Postal Service was like oh I guess these people are serious. Well we'll leave you have this one open but we're going to go ahead and open one on the highway. So a town of less than 15,000 and we had two post offices.
So we kind of knew that you know the writing was going to eventually be on the wall that we would have to do something and that was about you know 2008 is when we started hearing those rumblings. And the new postmaster came in, he's directed to close the downtown location and sell it. And then just consolidate operations out on the highway. So he let us know, and so we said OK what if we buy the building and then you can just rent from us and we'll do stuff with the other parts of the building and they're like no. And we're like OK well if you stay for free and we'll renovate the building, you stay for free and then we'll do stuff with the other part of the building, we'll take care of all the maintenance and everything. There's 700 P.O. boxes here and while they're not all always rented at the same time, that was a lot of foot traffic and this would be the first piece of government that would have left the downtown district. City hall is still here, Police, DMV you know all that is still downtown. And we just really thought we don't want to let this post office go because then it would make it easier to say oh we're going to move the police station out here and City Hall.
And as we've seen happen you know hundreds of times. And so we really kind of drew a line in the sand and they said, "Well we're not going to stay in this building in any shape or form. So why don't you buy the building, you renovate it and you run the downtown post office" and of course we had no idea that was even possible but it's called a contract Postal Unit. Some of them these days are called Village Post Offices VPO or CPU. So like how it works is that you know we are just like a regular post office. We sell the stamps for the same price. We ship packages just like they do. We don't do some of the ancillary services like bulk mail but we get a percentage. So the Post Office pays us nothing except the percentage of postage stamps that we sell and packages that we ship. So we get 10 percent. We always looked at it, we just wanted it to break even and if it made money that would be exciting.
M: So I’m assuming you have to staff this?
B: Yeah absolutely. Yeah. So yes. So we renovated the building again with this Neighborhood Assistance Program and then just a myriad of fun and nutty different fundraisers. They don't normally allow P.O. boxes to stay. And it was because a clerk, there are seven unions in the postal service believe it or not. And you would be taking a union job by that.
So because it's not normal to have P.O. boxes but that was our putting our foot down, if you take the P.O. boxes out of this location we will not, we won't do this. And they really wanted a CPU here, an additional unit. So we have been running, we renovated the building and we opened March 1st of 2011. So we've been running a post office for the last eight years and it's been going well. It definitely pays for itself. Our office has moved into the post office. So that left that little cabin vacant and so we kind of mothballed it for a while saying we'll figure out what to do with it eventually. And we're in this new beautiful building and our events coordinator, I'd already thought about this but there's always these things that push you over the edge to make you go, she had a terrible apartment and she's like "God I wish you know, I want to live downtown but it's either like so expensive I can't afford it or it's holy smokes it's scary and yucky." And so that's kind of where our residential was like opulently renovated or Holy crap I think that cockroach is as big as my cat. So we didn't have any middle ground and we were exhausted but somehow I convinced the board that we should go ahead and renovate that second and third floor back at the farmer's market. And I told them, because they were like oh we don't want to be landlords and had to collect rent and I was like well what else are you going to do. Here we are preaching to all these building owners that they need to be doing something on their second and third floor, and what are we doing. We're sitting here. Oh that's true you know. So I said, well I already have the apartments I think mostly rented and they're like really you do? And I'm like well Amy our event coordinator and they're like oh that's nice she won't do anything bad.
And then I said and one of my friends who's a police officer. And I was like well I better make good on that so I took off. I did take my friend through and it was like dead pigeons up there and you know just totally a mess on the upper floors. And I was like you could imagine living here, couldn't you? He's like Oh yeah totally. I mean he was kind of being sarcastic but he did move in, him and Amy each an apartment. So we renovated that, they were physically and mentally exhausted. I had an amazing board at the time and throwing water heaters out a second-floor window and you know repairing plaster and refinishing floors.
M: How did you finance that part?
B: That one we did it old school loan, we went to the bank.
M: Because you had equity in the building.
B: So at this point we had a loan on the farm on the post office. We took out a second loan. So what we did is we actually paid full price for everything, except for the demolition work, because we said we want this to be a true case so that we can go to other property owners and say, "OK we had a second and third floor. It was a hot mess; dead pigeons, falling plaster this is what it looked like, this is what we paid. Here's the return on the investment, it's there and it's a mid-range apartment. It's not crazy opulent and it's not scary gross. It's right in the middle. And here we have you know a young professional and a police officer living there and went over so well, huge. And then you know like a year later - a couple of, no it's been more than a year, we kind of had to take a breath after that because like I said we were physically mentally and moneywise exhausted.
And so just kind of truck in, keep on doing your four-point approach and all the events that we do and all this craziness. And it's like hey we still have a building, a really cool building that's sitting vacant. Our cabin. And so we start to talk about, you know in the beginning of 2013 we had no, really no B&B's. There were like two left. We have a park and we have two hotels out on the highway like a Best Western and a Super 8 and we recently got our little downtown boutique hotel opened. But as far as for someone that wanted to stay in a unique kind of a B&B setting, we just didn't have a lot. So our tourism director was like you guys should do like lodging in there and we're like what. So I was like OK this kind of sounds cool. No kidding we totally funded that whole project. We furnished the cabin off of Facebook.
B: We put a call out and said hey we think we're gonna do this, what do you think? Anybody got a bed? And so a local furniture company donated a king bed and mattresses to us. And the reason we got it is their roof had leaked and there was like one brown spot on the corner of the mattress you know. And so here we have it, and then it just kind of all came and we ended up getting like hutches that were from like founders of the community. It's crazy. So we have been running the bed and breakfast in there since the latter half of 2013.
And you know we caught bed tax just like our other lodging and resubmitted to the city for our you know bed, tax and tourism and yeah we're just, we're nuts.
M: And that’s staffed I assume.
B: Yes, when I started they were stretching the executive. When I started in 01 there was a full time executive director and a part-time bookkeeper admin. And then the chamber kind of poached him and said Okay well you can do both. So he was part time at downtown, part time at the Chamber which freed up some funds for them to hire me. And I come in as this Project Coordinator full time. So I guess we had one full time and two part-time and then over the years we have morphed and we're short one worker right now. But if we were full force we'd have four full time one part-time.
M: And what happens if someone doesn't show up for work, calls in sick. Who goes and covers at the post office, who goes and makes the beds and does the laundry?
B: So we have a cleaning lady that takes care of the cabin so that which we had to. Does the laundry and everything, but we all actually, I mean I know how to do everything over there so. And there has been a case you know when the cleaning lady is on vacation and I go over and I clean it and put it back together and get it ready for the person. Everybody in the office is cross-trained, so all of us can run the post office window. There is one likely, Anna works there full time, that's her thing. You know she's 40 hours up there but you know there is some downtime so she does Main Street stuff too as far as you know mailings, but that's her main goal. But yeah so we have a new event coordinator, Cassidy, and she's been here with us since April but she had to learn how to work at the post office. That's the hardest part. It's not like it's rocket science but it's just a lot to remember.
M: A lot of details I would think and you can’t screw up.
B: I will say at the end of the day the last line of defense if no one else is here, Bridgette has to come in. I mean and I will and I do it. And we're open, the post office is open on Saturdays from 8 to noon.
M: Everybody kind of take a Saturday and rotate it a little bit?
B: No, we have someone, one of our part-time people. We said that Saturdays was a definite like that’s what you need to be here. So it's not perfect and things don't always go right but it's just how we morphed and how we are today.
M: That's so fascinating and I think that you know Red Wings Downtown Main Street has been around since 1996 I believe and it was just a downtown Corporation of you know businesses that would meet and they didn't have a clear structure and they, of course, weren't a part of the Main Street program because that didn't come in until about 2010-2012. So and we were one of the first communities in the Main Street program. So we've been around a long time. And one of the things I've been feeling is that it's time for some transformational projects, it's time to think bigger and think bolder. And of course with that comes risk and comes more investments and more creative solutions on those kinds of things and so it's really fun to hear where you are now and what your organization has decided to focus on.
B: And there definitely were some risks.
B: I mean we sort of had to stick our necks out and we could have failed. I mean we definitely could've failed. We've had some sort of a merchant's organization, they officially incorporated in 1973. And they mostly just did promotions. So you know I mean even before that they met, there was a merchants group that met but it was funny they incorporated in 1973 and they called themselves the Downtown Washington Shopping Center. Coincidentally the year before our first shopping center opened out on our main highways.
So yeah I mean we never were a slipcovered shuttered downtown and we've always been able to you know remain. I mean there were definitely some desolate days and when the tumbleweeds are rolling, we're rolling down the streets. So we didn't have a lot of, I mean we definitely had buildings that are mucked up, but not as you know, I'm always like I'll never get that big reveal where they pull off the cover and voila there's this gorgeous structure. And one of my friends who has a lot of those in her town in, Chillicothe Missouri and she's like oh shut up.
M: Yeah you don't necessarily want those. You know that's such a different hard problem you know and we all have. And I think Red Wing you know the same thing. I mean we have a couple of buildings that are bank owned, that are for sale, that are priced you know in my opinion way too high for the value that you get for those. And so, but they're not in, you know they're not boarded up, they're not vandalized they just are empty. So you know but then we have really some core businesses that have been around a long long time and of course there's the session planning issues with those as we go forward. But we've been lucky to not have a lot of the challenges that other towns have. Are you as a county seat?
B: No, we're not. We are the largest town in the county but we are not the county seat, the town next to us is.
M: OK we're a county seat and I think that that might have a little bit to do with the stability that we've had for our downtown. But it's just fascinating and I think there's so much to learn about thinking bigger. And do you think that it was, was it a board, was it at the board level that they were open to thinking bigger. Did you have to drag them along or were they willing participants?
B: I think we, actually what's funny because we've had to tell the story so many times now. And then when we all sat around, Donovan Rypkema, was in not too long ago last year or so and he wanted to know how things happened and he talked to us individually. He's like, "whenever the main street directors are in the room they can't shut up."
And it's true though he interviewed them and interviewed everybody kind of separately and it was funny because the story that they told, because me if I'm excited about something then I cannot, you never wonder what I'm thinking because it's all over my face, which can be good and bad. So I go in like I could, I vividly remember the post office because I wanted to do it and I thought how am I going to convince them to do this. You know I think they're going to be scared I'll get out.
And so I went in there and I was literally I was so excited I was bouncing in my seat you know to tell them this is the plan and this is what we should do. And they went for it. And now as we look back and then they tell what they were thinking they were like, "well we didn't think we could do it, but you were so sure that we could do it that we said Okay let's try." You know so we were both faking each other into I’m pretty sure we can do it.
M: Right, which is terrifying.
B: It is because those board members signed on and personally guaranteed our loan.
M: Oh gosh.
B: That’s a big thing, that’s huge. And now we have you know, we own three structures. And so now we have equity and you know we secure our own loans. You know we have two loans still, one on the farmer's market and then one here on the post office still that we make monthly payments on that. We have a, we are only in one part of the post office. We rented the other part of the post office out to a financial planner. And so he pays us rents and that rent pays the mortgage. And the apartments you know over the farmer's market, that make us enough that brings in, pays the insurance and the mortgage.
M: So are these revenue generators for you?
B: Right now they're paying for themselves.
M: Just breaking even then.
B: Yes. But in a sense, we're not paying rent.
M: Right, so you have some added benefits.
B: So when we pay them off, they will be revenue generators. And the post office, I mean sorry, or the bed and breakfast, it’s called Gottfried's Cabin. I mean we’re not rolling in the dough but we were paying. With those logs, you can’t just turn the heat, have no AC and no heat. I mean so whether it was vacant or occupied, we had to keep the heat on. And so there was electric bills year round and gas bills and so that was, it was an expense no matter what. And so now it turns a profit. Like I said it's not huge but it's active. It's a part of the community, it's you know paying its dues as far as taxes and yeah.
And it's really nice. You know our chamber loves us because of the other lodging it is sought after. We have quite a bit now. I mean with AirBnB and VRBO and all that nuttiness. I mean there's over, you know besides the hotels, the three hotels, there's 20-22 different properties collecting the bed tax now. But they're all you know a little reluctant to donate and sometimes you just need to be able to put a package together with a night's stay. So that's been the biggest thing.
M: That’s great.
B: You know I mean like we can let the cabin go for free and use it to promote the community as a whole.
M: What a great, oh my gosh, it’s so inspiring.
B: And if you had told us all that we were gonna be doing all this stuff you know from all the way. You know it's just by time. You know somebody looks at us now and they're probably like God you people are nuts or you know but it just came like I said little by little that it seemed like it was a good idea to do all this craziness.
M: Well and that's usually what it does, it's you know it's not one big bite it's tiny little nibbles and all of a sudden you have a post office, a B&B and a farmer's market and you're managing all of that. And you know I think it's, does it ever feel like you have gotten away from the mission or does it feel like you've just absolutely wrapped those up and put them and made them a part of the mission.
B: I think that we've made them a part of the mission we did start. Before I came here, they had lost their 501C3 status in like 98 or 97, and they didn't know that what they were doing was wrong. They were kind of acting like a chamber of commerce offering benefits for membership, and you know that's not how a C3 is supposed to function. And it was actually a volunteer that had gotten disgruntled that turned them in.
M: Oh no.
B: Yeah so we functioned as a C6 for so long that we actually formed our own, we asked about going backwards and like trying to revert back to a C3 and the IRS is like no, you’re better off just starting a new one and so we did. So in 2006, we started our Historic Washington Foundation and how you get to be on that Board of Directors, one of the requirements is that you have to be, you have to have been president of the Main Street Board.
M: Oh wow.
B: So yeah, I do have in a sense I guess, two boards. I mean I work for the Main Street Program Downtown Washington Incorporated, but we do, I essentially serve as staff for our foundation as well. So they are two separate entities, file separate tax returns, two separate board of directors, but they meet together and so it’s definitely, I guess for us we view it as one and for the outside world, they view it as two just legally. And so I have to say having the flexibility of choosing who I want to be in the moment, a C3 or a C6 has been great too. Like we definitely haven’t, we’re not perfect, we screw things up. Things don’t go right, you think it’s going to go one way and it goes another and we worry. Especially, I worry, I don’t want this to sound jerky or anything, but I’m willing to do all of this and one day when I leave, is someone else going to for the pay?
And that’s a concern and so I was, I thought I was going to be forever single and I actually ended up meeting my husband late in life, I mean I was 35 when I met him. So we met in 2012 and I started to use all my time and it was like a little growing pain for my board and stuff. And it’s like well she’s not there, and it’s like well yeah, I’m actually using my vacation time, shocking I know, isn’t it?
M: I’m working only 8 hours in 1 day.
B: So I do talk about that a lot like you know, I’ve been able to do a lot of consulting that I absolutely adore and so I’ve gotten to go to Michigan and I’m headed to Louisiana this month, and Oklahoma and Illinois. And I just absolutely adored every little consulting gig that I’ve gotten in Florida and stuff. That’s what I say, we’re not perfect we do a lot of really cool things, but there are things that we need to do better. The work is never done. After we won GAMSA everybody is like what’s next? I hate that when they do that, it’s like what are you going to do to top yourself. Like god, just running the organization, isn’t that enough. It’s a lot of work.
M: But we do it to ourselves more than anyone else does it.
B: Oh yes. It’s like what are you adding, I’m like nothing.
M: I just need to take a breath.
B: We cannot add one more thing. Everyone is like, you should do this event. I’m like no we’re done. That’s another thing that we, in the past must have gotten in trouble for, you know having that nice diverse mix of funding. Well, one of the reasons that we didn’t make that accreditation back in 06 was because like 75% of our budget came from special events, weather dependent special events.
M: Not sustainable, you can’t count on that. If you have a bad year, it rains out, you have to lay somebody off.
B: You’re in trouble. So that’s one of our things that when we get reviewed they check that and so far we’ve been very good about getting it down. But you know for all the really cool amazing things we’ve done, we still screw up and we don’t do things right all the time and you know that’s a beautiful thing about being in a non-profit working with a bunch of volunteers. And then the next board comes in and you’re like ok what are you guys going to focus on and what are we going to do. It’s been amazing because it’s always different. There are things that you know, wear me down and I think that sometimes the thing that’s going to make me eventually leave is, well number one, they could use some fresh ideas. You know you do get set in your ways the longer you’re at a place. But the one thing about that is that so many Main Streets, like the average, is like 3 years or something like that. It’s hard, that’s hard to get momentum. That’s like the one thing I think about me being here so long is that there is a comfort level.
M: It’s easier to take those kinds of risks if you know the person is going to be around to fix it if it doesn’t work. Or even if it doesn’t work, there are risks to running a B&B, there are risks to running a post office. There’s just even over the initial hump of the investment and renovations. Now all of a sudden you have multiple businesses that are happening that somebody has to know how to run and know how to problem solve. And you’re not leaving, but I also think that as Main Street Directors we can sometimes do a big disservice to our organizations by providing, too much isn’t the right word, but not a realistic workload. Where all of a sudden in order to replace you they have to hire 3 people than the business model is broken. You can’t leave until all the loans are paid off because they're going to need that money.
B: I’m always saying yeah I’m going to finally leave and all these loans are going to get paid off and we’re going to be freaking rolling in the dough.
M: Yeah and why would you leave then, that’s easy. I mean what the heck? And there’s a certain something about the Main Street directors that I have met where I don’t think there’s a single person doing it because they’re getting rich, not monetarily anyway. It’s a passion.
B: It’s a career, it’s a passion. God, it’s different every day.
M: Right, good and bad.
B: I mean I would say the one thing that I do feel like I’m doing worse at as time goes on is the grumpy merchant.
M: The negative nellies. And I’ve only been in this position for about two years and when I first started I thought, I’m going to convert all those grumpy folks.
B: When one leaves another one takes their place.
M: Yeah, and what I’ve started doing is, I don’t know if this is the right answer or not, but every time someone complains I ask what committee they want to be on. And it typically does the job of you can’t complain if you’re not a part of the solution, but it just gets tiring.
B: It does.
M: When you’re working more than you’re supposed to be getting paid for.
B: That is the really cool thing about having a state director that has actually been one of us, is that she does get that and so while she doesn’t want us to sit down and just have, excuse my language, a bitch fest. But sometimes we just need to say it in a safe space and get it off our chest. It’s so funny, we have training that you know the state puts on and we go and we attend and once a year she brings in some kind of like a positive speaker, basically, we feel like she’s bringing a psychiatrist because we feel like she thinks we’re one step from the looney bin. But it’s funny, I mean we’ll end up laughing and crying and it’s good because you build a support network so you can call someone that’s around the state and still understands how your state works and everything but it’s a safe person to be like if I have one more merchant.
M: Yeah and I think it’s so important to know that there’s nothing, there’s sometimes nothing you can do to change a situation. You can give them, that merchant or that community member, that volunteer the world and it’s still not going to satisfy them and you just need someone to tell you that that’s ok and it’s not your fault and you didn’t do anything wrong and to move on and to focus on the hundred other people who love what you’re doing and value it. But it’s so easy to get focused on that negative person or that negative situation. And I suppose the longer you’re in this kind of a position, you have that kind of wisdom of knowing that, but it also adds up. I mean there’s kind of two sides to it like intellectually you can know that some people are just going to complain, but on the other side, you can think, well that isn’t how I want my Main Street to be. I want my Main Street to be one happy family that gets along and supports each other and everyone is on the same page, but that isn’t necessarily realistic. So it’s good to have those others, at least for me too, in Minnesota, to have those other Main Streeters. I just can’t say enough about how important that is. To keep our sanity.
B: Yes, that is definitely it. Am I crazy am I not crazy? Oh, you have that too?
M: Well it’s just been such a pleasure to talk to you! Is there anything else you want to make sure we talk about, or that you wanted to make sure that the people know about your town.
Edit out 40:46 to 40:51
B: Well I mean, we are, I’ll just give you a little spiel in town a little bit. But yeah, we’re about 45 minutes west of St. Louis on the Missouri river. Founded you know folks in the area, in the late 1700’s early 1800’s here. But we were officially founded as a community in 1839 by Lucinda Owens.
M: A woman?
B: Yes, a woman. We were supposed to be founded a few years earlier but her husband was shot in the back while on his way over to the county seat to formulate. So he had to sign the paperwork, so we were founded by a woman. No photo, of course, exists of her, plenty of her male relatives but not of her. Her house is still in downtown so that’s really exciting that we still have that right outside of our downtown district. Right over Missouri river so we do enjoy being near the water. We actually just got our brand new bridge, a $16 million project. Our big tourism draw, we’re in the heart of wine country so within an hour of Washington there’s something like 36 wineries. Actually, there’s more than that. Within a half an hour there’s 36 and within an hour of Washington, there are 68 wineries. We certainly enjoy our beverages of all kind here, goes well with our German heritage. So that is definitely something you’ll see at our festivals, it’s celebrating that German heritage. While we have children’s festivals, we do have plenty of adult festivals where we partake in beverages.
M: Well you have to have a balance.
B: It’s a good balance, yes. It’s definitely something that we enjoy. And my biggest piece of advice I think from being in this so long is go to training. And go to trainings more than with just the one staff person. Find a way to excite your board members and your volunteers and get them to go. We do not pay for our board members to attend training.
M: They pay themselves?
B: They pay themselves and I was very lucky, early on I got to go to D.C. for two years for a couple of weeks to do the certified Main Street Manager and that was unbelievable. We did not have the money for me to do that, a travel agent donated my airfare one year. A board member used the miles on his credit card another year to fly me there. Another board member used their credit card points to get my hotel room. The rotary and alliance paid for my hotel stay the second year. So really, just don’t be afraid to do crazy things to piece it all together. Where there is a will, there is a way. And if you’re excited about something, can share that enthusiasm, it is infectious. It has been huge for us to be partners, equal partners, with our city and our chamber. We’re not in competition with them, we’re working together to make a better community. And as long as you remember and as long as you can get comfortable with not having to be the one that gets credit, you’re going to go a really far way. It will give you a lot of longevity. You know, it's not always perfect but we try really hard. One of the things that we do is that our city administrator, our chamber exec and myself, we meet once a month over beverages and we’re just friends. There’s so much time that you’re spending together to make your community a great place, why not have a great friendship out of it. And I know that’s not going to happen for everyone, but just remember, you never know what kind of a day someone’s had. Being that positive person, smiling and pushing through, it can really go a long way.
M: I think it helps to have those people. They know firsthand the challenges that you’re facing.
B: Yeah and they know the same people probably.
M: Yeah and a lot of times there’s somebody in our community, there was a city council person that was not a fan of Downtown Main Street for a while. Then he turned his sights on one of the other organizations and I was like yeah, sorry but that too shall pass. He’s one vote so it’s just nice to have that camaraderie when things are though. It’s almost more important than when things are good. It’s easy to have a good relationship when things are good.
B: Agreed, yeah I totally agree. Just dig into the other resources. I get these great emails, I think her name is Joan Garry, and I actually printed out something on one of the emails she sent and it’s taped right next to my desk. And it’s called the 8 habits of a highly effective non-profit leader and I just love them because sometimes I just have to look at them like yeah yeah. One is to ask for help. Two is to talk less, listen more. Number three is exude passion, number four is ask really good questions. Number five is touch the work, be the work. Number six is get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Number seven is apologize more often, even if it’s not your fault, I added the even if it’s not your fault.
M: Yeah that’s tough.
B: Number eight is to be joyful and she added the ninth one which is sharpen the saw. Which really is, go to training be around people like you. Even the national conference, sometimes if nothing else, even if you don’t go to the classes, you should go to the classes, but even if you don’t, just being around your people is huge.
M: Right, that’s why I love the conferences because you are around people that love their communities, they love people, they love history and it’s my people. And that’s why I wanted to do this podcast too because I can’t be the only one, wondering how everyone else is doing it. How are they staying positive and making big changes and little changes and having influence in their communities and facing burnout and working through it? So that’s why I thought I love these people, they’re the most fun and they’re the most accepting people and I just think we’re so lucky to work around people who believe in their community. And community I think that translates to the main street program.
B: It does and I think your mentors come from all over. When I started, my National Main Street person was Sheri Stuart, who is now the State Coordinator for Oregon, and she always told me that she believed in me and that was huge. It was huge. So when we won GAMSA in 2012 I had to let her know that I am who I am today as an Executive Director because of Gayla Rosen and Sheri Stuart. Our state person now is Norma and she is a rockstar, I mean she supports us in every aspect. She was, again I think this is important, same with Sheri, same with Gayla, they were Main Street Executive Directors. And I think that’s a huge piece and Kathy La Plante, I adore all these women and that’s really a big part of, I think, where I am today and having those wonderful influences and knowing where to go and find them.
M: Well those relationships and knowing that you have people that have your back, that can help you get out of a sticky situation if you find yourself in one, I think helps you take bigger risks. Because you know that you’re not alone, and even if, let’s say one of your projects would have flopped, that wouldn’t have changed how they feel about you. That’s in and of itself a lesson. So having those people behind you and nurturing those relationships, I think, makes it so much easier to take risks. I know that if I have a crazy idea I call one of the main street other coordinators, or managers or executive directors and then we talk about it. And then I talk to the Minnesota coordinator and it helps you think everything through so much better and it’s a better idea by the time you get it to the community or to the board or whatever. You just have so many more resources.
B: That’s what I think about Main Street, it’s a beta copy and probably you are not having an original idea and someone has tried it before so learn from their successes.
M: I don’t know anybody that owns a post office Debora Jet. I love it!
B: I don’t know of any.
M: That’s pretty special.
B: Yeah pretty stupid one.
M: I am not judging. This has been so fun and I am so glad we got the chance to talk and that you’re out there and that you’re working hard. Your years of experience, obviously, are invaluable to those of us who are still new to this. I can’t wait to meet you, I will be at the conference in Seattle.
B: Oh great! Did you go to Kansas City?
M: I went to Kansas City, I was really sick. I took one of the classes there so it’s all kind of a blur, but I’m hoping that Seattle I’m going to make the most of Seattle and make up for lost time.
B: Well cool, I will definitely be there. I’m going and like I said I’m going to Louisiana for training, I’m doing promotions for them later on in the month so I will definitely mention your podcast, see if I can get you some more listeners.
M: Well thank you, I really appreciate it and I’d like to include if you have a website or any personal information about your consulting and include that too if that’s something that you want to do.
B: I don’t have a website for that, I just kind of get asked by Norma or Kathy or Gayla says, oh you need to talk to this person, and so that’s like how I got the Florida and the Oklahoma gig.
M: We’ll make sure to include your email so people can get a hold of you for that too and I can’t wait to see pictures of your post office, your B&B and the pavilion. We’ll include all that in the show information on the website so that people can see what we’re talking about and it’s truly inspirational. So thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today and I look forward to meeting you in person soon.