New OMI leadership team plots course for Oxford’s revitalization
By Steven Hoffman
The reality is that the leadership team of Oxford Mainstreet, Inc. (OMI) has been together for just a few short weeks. But ask the three women about what is great about downtown Oxford, or about their plans to continue the town’s revitalization efforts, and they talk like they’ve been together for years.
During Donna Hosler’s first six months as the executive director of OMI, she has assembled a team that now includes Heidi Kern as the office manager and coordinator of special events and Stephanie Crowley as the administrative assistant. Crowley joined the team not long after Hosler, and Kern arrived in July. Their enthusiasm for the work at OMI is palpable, especially when they start to talk about how supportive the town’s business owners are, or about how many people in Oxford have invested themselves in the town's revitalization efforts.
“It’s been fun trying to get the right dynamic,” Hosler explained. “Now, we have a strong staff so that we can all do our jobs. All of our committees are up and running again. I think we’re now hitting our stride.”
The OMI officials have been working on a number of different initiatives simultaneously, some large and some small. All the OMI committees have been re-established and are back on a regular schedule for meetings. The staff is building a database that will include all the properties, property owners, and businesses that are located inside the boundary of the Business Improvement District. They also want to have a database for sponsors, volunteers, and other resources. OMI’s website is being completely revamped. A more comprehensive and interactive website should be online within the next few months.
With the team now in place, Hosler, Crowley, and Kern are all enthusiastic about the work ahead. Each member of the OMI team brings different skills to the effort. Hosler now has the opportunity to develop the overall vision for OMI. She will be overseeing the longterm planning and seeking grants to maximize the benefits for downtown Oxford.
Crowley has a retail background that has already proven to be an asset.
“She helps us communicate better with the businesses,” Hosler explained.
Crowley said that she was motivated to join the OMI staff because she and her husband are raising five children in Oxford Borough, and she wanted to be more involved in the community that she lives in.
“It’s very important to me to be a part of the community,” she explained. “I want to make a contribution to where our kids are growing up.”
Kern, a resident of Nottingham, comes to OMI with the experience of running her own event-planning business for 13 years. She coordinated everything from parties to weddings to NASCAR activities, handling numerous events each month.
Hosler marveled at how professionally—and quickly—Kern took to planning the First Fridays.
“It just makes sense to her,” Hosler explained. “She can coordinate an event and then move on to the next thing. She joined us in July, but I already feel like she has been here forever.”
With Crowley and Kern on board to oversee planning for First Fridays and to respond to the needs of the businesses, Hosler can focus on other duties, like marketing Oxford to potential businesses or promoting it as a destination for guests.
“I need to get out and network,” Hosler explained. “I want to reach out to places like Philadelphia, Kennett Square, and West Chester.”
Hosler emphasized that in the effort to revitalize Oxford, the current team has the benefit of building on the strong foundation that was built by previous OMI staffers, business leaders in town, and Oxford Borough officials. For example, the popularity of the First Friday events has already been on the rise, and the new team can now build on that.
Even though she has been on the job for less than a month, Kern has some ideas for new themes and new plans for the First Friday events. The Country Christmas, the car show, and the Cinco de Mayo event will all remain as cornerstones on the annual calendar, but other First Fridays may see more significant changes.
Kern said that she wants the First Fridays to grow, with different vendors and new themes each month so that there isn’t a sameness to the events. She also envisions a kids’ zone with all the activities for children centered on Locust Street.
Kern is already thinking about concepts for a fire & ice First Friday during the winter that would include a barrel fire, an ice sculptor, and other activities.
“We’re really hoping to boost the First Fridays in the winter,” Hosler explained.
Hosler, Kern, and Crowley all agreed that the thing that makes Oxford so special is its people, and that pays dividends in a number of ways.
“I definitely think it’s the people who make our town so amazing,” Crowley explained.
OMI officials want to utilize this resource by expanding the volunteer base so that there is consistency to many of the duties that are handled with the assistance of helpers. A person who helps put up signs for the First Friday event, for example, will know exactly where and when the signs need to be put up.
“We really depend on our volunteers,” Hosler explained. “That includes our board of directors, who put in a lot of time.”
As an added incentive for volunteers, OMI is now offering a $10 gift card for use in downtown Oxford businesses for every 20 hours that a volunteer puts in.
OMI also enjoys excellent relationships throughout the community, including nonprofit organizations, borough officials, the school district, the public works department, the police department, and lawmakers like State Sen. Andy Dinniman and State Rep. John Lawrence. The most important relationship for OMI may be the business owners in town.
“The community has been very generous to us,” said Hosler. “I love this community. I can’t get over how involved the businesses are, and how willing the business owners are to work with us. They understand the success of their businesses depends not only on their individual vision and planning, but also on the success of the downtown.”
“They are so willing to invest in the vision for a greater Oxford,” added Crowley. “We have the making of something amazing here.”
The new leadership team has some goals that it wants to accomplish over the course of the first year together: They want the OMI office functioning more like a business; they want more foot traffic in the downtown; they want more arts-oriented activities; they want more jewelry and high-end crafts available; and they want more buildings in the business district fully utilized.
Knowing that there is so much support and collaboration, the OMI team sees plenty of potential for Oxford’s business district, and they expect to be able to make consistent progress during the next year.
“We will know that we did our job with Oxford being clean, safe, and open. We want to get the stores to stay open until eight o’clock one more night a week. I’m going to know we’re on the right track when our First Friday is the place to go for someone living in West Chester,” Hosler explained.