Once I discovered the world of downtown revitalization, I was hooked. In 2003, I was hired to launch the Livingston-Wyoming Downtown Revitalization Program.
I was given two years to make an impact in eight communities across two large, rural counties in New York. Each downtown was unique. Some had very active merchants, but many of their historic buildings and facades had been torn down or destroyed. Others had great building stock, but no business momentum.
My program was funding by the NYS Governor’s Office for Small Cities, (which no longer exists). I had $250,000 to give out in grants and loans and another $250,000 to use for technical assistance and education.
Working with two counties to rollout one program was challenging.
Six months after we launched, grant fund distribution was at a stand still. The lead county couldn’t get through the red-tape. We had diligently vetted our first 10 businesses. But, I couldn’t cut the check myself.
The Livingston County News was minutes from printing a scathing article about a program that had momentum, but nothing to show.
I reached out to my contacts and introduced myself to the new editor. Thanks to my quick thinking (and some charm), we made the cover, in a good way. Magically, checks started going out the same week.
When our two year deadline arrived, over 50 businesses received grants, low interest loans, or technical assistance to start or expand their operations. Even today, a few are still open:
- Creekside Quilts and Fabric (Arcade, NY)
- Twisters Ice Cream (Livonia, NY)
- Burlingham Books was open until 2018 and sold to Biblio-Tech Cafe (Perry, NY)
I became friends with a wonderful man named Norman Mintz, the father of downtown development. He recommended my work to the Corning’s Gaffer District. They hired me in 2005.
Unfortunately, that job came to an abrupt halt when I was diagnosed with leukemia in early 2006.
Four years later, I launched two businesses: Lila Pilates, LLC and my own public relations and marketing agency, Shaffer & Associates.
The Livingston-Wyoming Downtown Revitalization Program continued under the leadership of Louise Wadsworth, who still runs a similar program for Livingston County today.