Did you know Jamaica Plain has three Main Streets districts? JP is home to Egleston Square, Hyde/Jackson and Centre/South Main Streets.
Today we are chatting with the new Executive Director of JP Centre/ South Main Streets Ginger Brown about her goals as the new director, her ambition for JP to be nationally recognized, and why the Lantern Parade holds a special place in her heart.
K: Where are you from originally and where do you live now?
G: That’s a tough question! My father was in the military so we moved around quite a bit when I was little. When I was seven we moved to Seoul, Korea. My mom is Korean. We lived in a Korean neighborhood but I went to school on the military base. I lived there until I was 14. We moved back to Virginia to a really small town there. Then I went to college in Richmond, Virginia. So generally, when people ask where I am from I say Richmond, Virginia, because I had lived there for more years than any other place. But I’ve moved a lot since then and now Boston is where I have lived the longest, since2007. At first, I lived in Watertown but now JP is my home. It’s very different from Watertown but I like that. JP knows who it is and you don’t get that in a lot of places.
K: Tell me about the path that led you to this position at JP Centre/South Main Streets.
G: I have a Masters in Art History, with a concentration in Museum Studies. My dream was to work at a museum. In 2002, I was working at the Valentine Richmond History Center in Richmond. As is the case with a lot of non-profits, there was not a lot of room to move up so I went to work for Nordstrom. I started out as a sales person and worked my way up to department manager. As a department manager, I was promoted to larger and larger stores, which meant moving from Richmond to Baltimore and then to the Natick store, when it opened in 2007. It’s a great company to work for. As a company, they teach their employees as much as they can so I learned about customer service, how to run a business, how to manage employees, inventory, and all sorts of things.
I had reached a point, though, where I didn’t want to relocate anymore, so I left Nordstrom to work for MassArt. They had a little boutique called ‘MassArt Made’ and I was the creative director and manager. That was fantastic because I got to combine my art history background with my retail knowledge. I loved that store. Unfortunately, budget cuts came down hard and they had to close the store. By then, I was with my husband Brad and we opened a small restaurant in JP called ‘La Rana Rossa.’ I put all of my previous knowledge into that but the restaurant business is different. It is so fast-paced. It was killer.
K: Did you sleep?
G: No! Neither of us slept for more than a year. It was so stressful. Staffing was always an issue and trying to stay on top of the money, the customers, and the inventory on a daily basis is just a lot. Even though I thought that I could handle it, it really got to us. We had to make tough decisions. We really wanted to start a family so we had to admit that we can’t have a family and this lifestyle. We made the tough decision to close it down. At that time, Brad was president of JP Centre/South Main Streets. He’d been a board member for years. We knew they were looking for an Executive Director so I put my name in for it. Fortunately, my experience really coalesces for this position with my background in non-profits, arts, retail and restaurants.
K: That is a great path! What are some significant projects you’ve taken on or are planning to take on with JP Centre/South Main Streets?
G: First Thursday had been a big and successful tradition on Centre/South. One of the first things I did was introduce myself to all of the businesses when I started and almost all of them mentioned that they wanted to see First Thursday come back. They had done a great job of keeping it going all on their own with no Executive Director here at JP Centre/South so that meant that the community is really invested in it. I want to see that become as big as it used to be.
Many people asked about ‘Screen on The Green.’ JP Centre/South Main Streets used to show a movie on the lawn of Loring Greenough House on First Thursday. It got all the families out socializing on the lawn so I really want to see that come back as well.
My own personal goal is to see holiday shopping in JP become a much bigger activity for us. This is an opportunity to get people from the rest of the city over to JP. We have really unique shops and they are perfect for gift giving. Small Business Saturday is becoming more prominent so any district with shops like ours really needs to make this a big event.
K: What are your ideas for JPNDC and JP Centre/South working together?
G: We try hard to cross-promote JPNDC events, meetings and workshops. We look forward to collaborating more in the future because we know JPNDC works closely with small businesses. And Main Streets actually doesn’t focus only on businesses but on residents and businesses. The long-term benefit of Main Streets is making the economic corridor healthy because that helps the residents that live here. So we support the whole community, especially organizations like JPNDC that can help us achieve that goal. It would be wonderful to partner with other organizations to support the overall economic health of the neighborhood. We’re all in this together.
K: What do you think are some of the most important issues facing JP Centre/South?
G: JP is lucky because we have such an involved, passionate community. We have a good mix of businesses, we don’t have as many empty storefronts as other districts, and we keep an eye on that. We have a lot of business-oriented, civic, and arts organizations, each with a different focus, which is great. By working together, we could reduce our workloads but still maintain our individual missions. Right now, we just need to make those connections.
K: Do you have a favorite event or tradition in Jamaica Plain?
G: I love the Lantern Parade. It is visually beautiful to see all the lanterns reflected in the water. It’s adorable to see the kids in costumes. It was also one of the very first dates my husband and I went on. Some mutual friends asked Brad if he wanted walk around the pond and he asked me to go. We walked around the pond hand in hand and it was lovely.
K: Do you have a favorite memory of Jamaica Plain?
G: One of my favorite memories is when Brad and I were walking around looking at all of the Christmas decorations in the store windows. He had to go to a meeting so I went and got his Christmas present at Salmagundi, while waiting for him to finish. I didn’t live in JP at the time so he was absolutely floored as to how I got the hat.
K: What would you like to see happen in JP in the future?
G: I’d like to see JP receive national recognition for our local businesses and for the variety of local businesses we have. I’ve been researching the businesses in this district so I can learn more about them. We recently named Fire Opal as our ‘Business of the Year.’ I went to their website to learn more about them and discovered that they have been nationally recognized by craft magazines and retailers. We have amazing shops here and we need to get the word out nationally about JP. When tourists come to Boston, I want JP to be on their list. It needs to be on their list. Come to JP!
K: Any upcoming events for JP Centre/South Main Streets?
G: Ongoing, I want people to know that I am completely open to suggestions. I have a good background in this but I don’t know it all so I am open to anyone sharing their knowledge with me and I am so grateful for it. I am not always able to see everything that JP needs. We also need volunteers, especially people who care about keeping JP vibrant and diverse. We have four committees who are always looking for members.
Also, come see us for Small Business Saturday on November 25. JP Centre/South Main Streets will have welcome tables set up on Centre and South Streets, with free gifts from American Express.
We also have a Holiday Stroll on Saturday, December 2, instead of a First Thursday event. This includes the Mayor’s Trolley Tour and Tree-Lighting at JP Monument. It also coincides with Shop with a Cause, with many participating businesses in Jamaica Plain. It should be a fun day.