OMI welcomes new executive director to lead revitalization efforts
By Steven Hoffman
Christianna Hannum started her new role as the executive director of Oxford Mainstreet, Inc. (OMI) just two weeks ago, and she has already mapped out five goals for her first 100 days on the job.
One priority—and a project that she’s really excited about—is the Shoebox Theatre, an intimate 50-seat theater and entertainment venue that will be a catalyst for economic development by attracting more visitors to the downtown. Hannum is so excited about the opportunity to move this project forward that she identified it as one of the reasons that she was interested in the executive director position with OMI in the first place. OMI is the driving force behind the Shoebox Theatre, and Hannum will now take over for former executive director Brian Wenzka in seeing the project through to completion. Hannum said that construction work is progressing on the building and the Shoebox Theatre could debut later in 2020.
The Shoebox Theare is phase one of a two-phase plan to bring a larger theater to Oxford’s business district in the very same building on Third Street that once housed the popular Oxford Theater more than a generation ago. Once the smaller theater is completed, work on the larger one can begin in earnest. Hannum said that she’s working on drafting a major donor development plan that will help make the theater project a reality. A theater has long been seen by numerous Oxford officials as a way to attract to new visitors to the downtown, and having more entertainment for people of all ages would also help the other restaurants and shops in town.
Hannum said that another one of her goals is to review OMI’s annual budget and long-term financial plan. There are plans to hire a new Main Street Manager, a position that has been vacant since earlier this year.
She also wants to review and evaluate some of OMI’s foundational programs, such as the First Friday events. There are hopes that some First Friday activities will be able to safely resume later in the summer, and Hannum said that they are working with borough officials right now to determine whether a modified First Friday event can take place in August.
Hannum has already made progress on another goal that she hopes to accomplish in the first 100 days, which is to introduce herself to some of the key players at the local, county, and state levels. She wants to meet with all of the Oxford merchants in the Business Improvement District, and direct any help that OMI can provide to them as they work to recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hannum said that she has received a warm welcome, even though everyone is carrying an extra burden while dealing with the impact of the pandemic.
“The merchants have been very welcoming,” Hannum said. “Many people have called or stopped by to welcome me. There have been emails. Herr’s sent a bouquet of flowers. Everyone has been very welcoming.”
Hannum has deep roots in southern Chester County. She was born and raised in Unionville and has fond memories from childhood of traveling to Oxford with her family to pick up pet food and supplies at Oxford Feed and Lumber. She now lives in Kennett Square with her two children.
Hannum brings more than twenty years of experience in not-for-profit fundraising, marketing, and communications to her new job with OMI. She also serves on the Board of the Street Road Project, a contemporary art space, and is involved in the proposed Kennett Square Library project.
Hannum said that community involvement is very important to her family.
“My family has a long legacy of being community leaders,” she said.
Her grandfather, John B. Hannum, was a federal judge, while her father, John “Jock” Hannum is a Chester County lawyer and her mother, Georgianna Hannum Stapleton, is an open space advocate. They have all been leaders in the community.
Her grandmother, Nancy Penn Smith Hannum, was a legendary figure as the world’s most famous Master of Fox Hounds. For more than 50 years, she enjoyed unequalled success as the master for Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Foxhounds, and she was also a driving force in the effort to preserve open space in Chester County. As a result of this work in sport and land conservation, she left behind quite a legacy.
One of the projects that Christianna Hannum is proudest of is her work on “Goodnight Ladies,” a 37-minute documentary film that is a tribute to the life’s work of her grandmother. She was responsible for raising more than $350,000 to fund the project, and she also founded Swim Pictures in order to direct and produce the feature film. “Goodnight Ladies” went on to win the Eastman Kodak and Equus Film Festival WINNIE awards.
The film highlighted Nancy Penn Smith Hannum’s love of her sport and how she never stopped in the pursuit of what she believed in. The premiere of the film took place on the 100th anniversary of Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Fox Hounds at the Chester County Historical Society on Nov. 14, 2012. Sold-out screenings of the documentary took place all across the country.
Christianna Hannum said that she believes her grandmother would have approved of the new role that she taken on at OMI because it is job that focuses on building a strong community.
In the new position, Hannum will be able to utilize many of the skills and experiences she has earned along the way. Her experience leading major donor campaigns was one of the reasons why she was such a good match for OMI.
Hannum said that she wants to reach out donors throughout southern Chester County to help make the theater project a reality and to support other OMI initiatives. There are a lot of people who want to support the arts and cultural activities, Hannum said, and Oxford has developed into a hub for the arts in recent years. The Connective Festival quickly grew into one of the town’s most popular events during its first two years.
Hannum previously served as the Director of Communications for the Philadelphia Fine Art Fair and for Acorn Capital. She was also the Major Gifts Director for the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania, where she was responsible for events, corporate gifts and donor relations. She was awarded a national fellowship for leadership, the Coro Fellowship in Public Affairs and attended the University of Pennsylvania.
So far, she said, Oxford has been even more charming than she remembered during her visits when she was growing up. She’s surprised by the number of horse and buggies that pass through town.
“It’s very Main Street, USA here,” she said. “It’s very charming.”
OMI has played a big part in preserving and enhancing that charm. The organization celebrated its 20th anniversary of leading the revitalization efforts of downtown Oxford in 2019. During that time, OMI has helped attract dozens of new businesses to downtown Oxford. Important buildings with historic value have been renovated and repurposed. Three phases of streetscape improvements have transformed the look of the downtown over the last 20 years. OMI has provided façade grants that have helped tired old buildings look new again during that time.
OMI has also introduced popular community events like First Fridays, the annual car show, and the Connective Festival that bring thousands of people to town for family-friendly fun.
The organization has also lobbied for infrastructure projects like the Multimodal Transportation Center, which allows for future revitalization initiatives.
To contact Oxford Mainstreet, Inc. visit the organization’s Facebook page or its website at www.downtownoxfordpa.org or call 610-998-9494.