By Michelle Blackley Glynn
Special to NFP
When Jessica Dittly moved to Lockport a decade ago, she came armed with her artistic talent, and penchant for cooking and baking. After successfully running Cream & Sugar Café (she was Lockport Business Association's "Business Person of the Year" in 2015) she is now dishing up her skills in a different capacity.
Dittly is the program director at Lockport Main Street Inc., a nonprofit organization aimed at promoting economic development in downtown Lockport, by helping new businesses move in and existing businesses thrive.
NFP recently had the chance to speak with Dittly about how the job is going, and what's on horizon for the county seat of Niagara.
Q: Congratulations on the new position of program director for Lockport Main Street; how is it going so far?
Dittly: Thank you so much. The job is going really well. It has been an interesting transition to the world on nonprofits, but it has been completely enriching, allowing me to see the world of brainstorming and implementation of progressive projects in the City of Lockport.
Q: What does the job entail?
Dittly: As program director of Lockport Main Street, I have the duties of overseeing the organization on a day-to-day basis while writing new programming and working to build stronger processes to the programs we currently oversee. In addition to our regular programming, I am the main point of contact for the Erie Canal Bicentennial Celebration on July 8. It is going to be an amazing day.
Q: What is a typical day like?
Dittly: It's a job with many hats. On a daily basis, I move between bookkeeping, accounting, grant administration, community engagement and team oversight. I try to find time to leave my office and visit a local businesses - I know I can make improvements in that aspect. On a positive note, though, the organization has allowed me to enrich programs such as the farmers market, to become richer for the community. I currently have a market manager in office a few days a week, as well as a summer intern, so the three of us get to work through some big lists with a lot of passion.
Q: What have you brought to the position?
Dittly: My goal is to bring a fresh energy to Lockport Main Street Inc. It has been a very steadfast workhorse in the community. A bit of an unsung hero for the projects that it has developed, with my coming in, the previous director was able to move to a position with the Greater Lockport Development Corp., where she works in grant administration for economic development in the city. This has afforded Lockport Main Street an opportunity to work on projects that will directly impact our community and visitors alike. Sometimes I feel extra lucky, because my board is pretty trusting in my ideas even though they are uncharted territory for the organization. I also think I am able to bring a different perspective to the organization, as I was a business owner before this position. So, I am coming in from the other side of the table. I still see things from a business owner point of view, which helps in developing new directions.
Q: The popular community market on Canal Street is back on Saturdays this summer and early fall, how is it going so far?
Dittly: The market is going great; it is amazing the amount of work that goes into getting it off the ground in the winter and spring. I am happy to report that we have an incredible lineup of vendors this year, from local produce, to two bakeries, award-winning dairy, eggs and meats, specialty foods, crafts and artisan goods. We are always working on good product balance, making sure we have variety while making this sustainable for our vendors. This year we have expanded our programming to build the market into a crown jewel of the community. Each week we will offer story time for children, crafts and activities to keep little hands busy, as well as an amazing selection of musicians and entertainment.
I'm happy to say that we are a producer-only farmers market this year. This means that we don't have anyone buying in produce that is in season somewhere else. By early July, we will have five produce farms on site carrying a hot, huge selection of produce. This week, we have an additional farm making their debut with lettuce radishes and Swiss chard with more to come from all of our producer farms and then your future.
With the increase in people, parking does get tight. If it seems like parking is congested, I suggest using the parking lots on the corner of Main Street and Pine Street. It gives you easy access to beautiful views, Main Street shops, and you have to walk by the Flight of Five Winery. I suggest you walk stop and walk in - it's a really special place and the people are wonderful.
Q: How has Lockport changed over the years?
Dittly: I have been a resident of Lockport for just over 10 years now, and some may still consider me a newbie, which may jade the answer to this question. With that being said, I have seen so much positive growth in the fabric of the community that it is a point of inspiration to keep moving forward. Yes, our retail business district is struggling, and it is a hard market to sustain within, but there is a lot of energy towards growth. If you are questioning the positive in Lockport, I challenge you to venture down to the Flight of Five Locks and spend the day as a tourist would. With the amount of attractions, activities and exploitation you can do as a visitor, it's easy to be proud of this city as a resident. The only way to be proud of it is to be part of it.
Q: Previously you were a small business owner in Lockport, how has the transition been?
Dittly: This is a good one, and my answer is always evolving. After Jason, my husband and business partner, and I decided to close the café, we went through a legitimate grieving period. We had invested a lot into something that turned out to be too big for our family to carry. So at first it was hard. But now, a year past that last day, I hold absolutely no regrets and am thankful for exactly where I am now. I learned very quickly that my calling was to serve the community in a way that would deeply impact people's pride in where they call home. I'm lucky enough to say I now have the opportunity to fulfill that drive.
Q: Are you still developing recipes?
Dittly: In my head! I haven't given up on cooking, and I have journals full of future projects. I still do little projects for family and friends. One day I will be back in that world; it's a matter of when at this point. For now, my focus is the community of Lockport and my family.
Q: Any plans or changes, with this position, on the horizon?
Dittly: I would say my immediate and long-term goals for my position at Lockport Main Street are the same; the execution will be different, though. I want to build pride in our residents and a community of activists who work together for the greater good. I'm proud of this town, who adopted me in, and I want to encourage that in others. As far as my personal goals, Jason is working on a business concept that I am thrilled to help support. It will be role reversal from the café, and it will be a great experience for us both. And I always plan on opening another business some day. What that will be I just can't decide yet; I float between gourmet food retail, a collaborative women's guild of artists, and tattoo artist . . . only the future will tell.
Michelle Blackley Glynn is the owner/chief creative officer at Full Plate Publicity, and is the host of "
Pearls, Plates & Planes" on
LCTV. She can be found on Twitter at shellblackley.