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  • Writer's pictureCraig Richards

Hammonton Insider: MainStreet Executive Director Mica McCullough


Hammonton Insider: MainStreet Executive Director Mica McCullough

CRAIG RICHARDS: Let’s talk MainStreet. What is its purpose?


MICA MCCULLOUGH: The purpose of the MainStreet Program in Hammonton was really to revitalize the downtown, which is a little different than the typical MainStreet. Before I came to Hammonton around the 70s and 80s, the downtown was just really forlorn and neglected and not a place where people wanted to spend time. So, the intent was to put some resources toward revitalizing it, to make it a place where people wanted to shop, visit, eat, drink, play; bring their families and live in and around the downtown and the surrounding area. At that time, that wasn’t an actual MainStreet Program, but it had a lot of similarities to what Main Street does. The MainStreet America Program is based on the idea of creating these downtowns where people want to invest their time, energy, and money to create these very solid communities. They have what are called transformation strategies, which are strategies based on actual documented positive changes or changes experienced firsthand. Those have become basically the pillars of their program that each MainStreet community duplicates, (best practices). So, we have community outreach, economic development, promotions, and design, which focuses on the look of the downtown.


CRAIG RICHARDS: So, revitalization was actually the origin of our MainStreet.


MCCULLOUGH: It was. So, we started under a different name.


RICHARDS: What was the name that we started the revitalization program with?


MCCULLOUGH: In 1984, the Greater Hammonton Chamber of Commerce started a subcommittee that became the nonprofit 501c3 Hammonton Revitalization Corporation, which is still the name of the organization, sort of a parent organization for MainStreet. But it began in 1984 and then we started the MainStreet Hammonton program in 1993, which is the second longest running MainStreet program in New Jersey.


RICHARDS: And that’s been referred to for a long time as HRC.


MCCULLOUGH: Yes, HRC, the Hammonton Revitalization Corporation is the parent organization of MainStreet.


RICHARDS: Kind of like an umbrella organization.


MCCULLOUGH: Exactly, and MainStreet’s under that umbrella. They call me the MainStreet Director because Executive Director of Hammonton Revitalization Corporation, Mica McCullough is too long for my name tag. (Smiling).


RICHARDS: And an expensive business card to print out if they charge by the letter.


MCCULLOUGH: Yeah.


RICHARDS: So, tell me about your role in the organization and the structure. And especially in relationship to a smaller staff, which is typical in a lot of these organizations.


MCCULLOUGH: In any nonprofit, the Executive Director is the person connecting all the threads. Typically, there are staff who are doing the work, but the Executive Director is aware of it and provides the bigger picture while dealing with challenges or things that come up. In our organization, I am both the boots on the ground and that bigger picture thread holder. It’s a lot to keep in mind, a lot to be aware of, and because we have limited staff, we rely on volunteers. Our volunteers are wonderful, but there are a lot of them. So, there’s a volunteer management component while balancing scheduling their time and making sure you’re not asking too much for someone who’s volunteering. Speaking of that time commitment and the amount of time it takes to be both organizer and hands-on boots on the ground, we have a pretty aggressive promotional calendar with Main Street.


RICHARDS: How do you balance or find a balance between quantity of events and quality of events?


MCCULLOUGH: That’s something we’re working on. We’ve really been trying to get feedback from the businesses because we host a lot of events - events intended to bring people downtown to go into the businesses. So, we want to know from the businesses, does this event help you? If it doesn’t, how can we make it help you? Basically, we say MainStreet is intended to bring people to the sidewalk and the businesses are responsibility for pulling people off the sidewalk into their shops. Historically we have used events as a way to bring people. Our ultimate goal is to make sure that the events we host are quality while maintaining a quantity component because we want people to have multiple reasons to visit downtown Hammonton. If something that we’re doing is not meeting those ultimate goals, we want to amend it. Through our current event schedule, every single month there’s at least one reason, with our monthly third Thursday event. In the busier seasons, May, June, October through December, there is an event almost every week. Just something to bring people downtown, for instance we have several events coming soon. Those include our next Third Thursday on the 16th, Cruisin’ MainStreet on the 17th, Food Truck Festival on June 8 and the June Third Thursday on the 20th.


RICHARDS: Well, and there’s a lot of power in the diversity of events and activities people can come to. And it seems to draw a diverse crowd as well.


MCCULLOUGH: I see the importance of that. But also, it makes a lot of sense that you balance that out to make sure they’re solid events.


RICHARDS: You think MainStreet’s strongest component is partnership? When you say bring them to the sidewalk and then the businesses need to draw them in, that sounds like a pretty natural partnership between the two.


MCCULLOUGH: I think so. And I think that it’s mutually beneficial. If a business is putting a lot of energy and time into their storefront to make downtown vibrant and active, then hopefully that helps the business. But it’ll also help MainStreet because it will bring people downtown. It will help their neighboring businesses. And it helps their neighboring businesses. There’s a lot of really interesting collaborative partnerships downtown. There are several other organizations that host events downtown as well, which continues to bring people and benefit the businesses as well.


RICHARDS: You’re a small business owner yourself. Tell me a little bit about that and how do you feel that helps you in your role in MainStreet?


MCCULLOUGH: Sure. My husband and I started our business, and it will be seven years old in August. We were in for a number of years before moving downtown in 2021. Way before this job was available, way before I knew about it, we just wanted to be downtown because we knew that a lot of work had gone into the revitalization and it would make a lot of sense for us, even just from the standpoint of foot traffic on the sidewalk. I do think that gives me a unique perspective in the MainStreet role because I can empathize with the businesses. There are so many businesses that are trying to make it, and it is the only way that their families can make it. There might not be a person with a very stable income or a breadwinner per se. So, I have a lot of compassion and empathy for the business owners. And that, I think, allows me to have a clear picture of what a successful MainStreet looks like from the perspective of a business owner.


RICHARDS: It gives you understanding from their point of view.


MCCULLOUGH: Yes.


RICHARDS: And that certainly would help you even in how you schedule and events and what events you’re scheduling.


MCCULLOUGH: Yes, and even the flow of information. I created a resources page on the downtown Hammonton website for business owners that has the schedule of events and the schedule of activities like the soccer tournaments, which is helpful if you want to know when there might be hundreds of people wearing cleats walking into your door, right? You might want to have some extra staff or products that are geared toward that clientele.

There are grant opportunities, while not through MainStreet, I post just trying to make business owners aware.

The lens that I see that through [as a business owner] is what would I find helpful and how can it be presented to other business owners so they can take advantage of those opportunities.


RICHARDS: Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. All right, your weekdays or weekend schedule, it’s packed between a business owner, MainStreet responsibilities and duties. How does Mica unwind? How do you breathe?


MCCULLOUGH: I do a lot of yoga. I take a morning yoga class at Forged Soul. I’m a member there. So even in my down time, I’m still supporting downtown businesses, but I like to start my day that way. In the warmer months, I love to garden. I have a big backyard and a big garden, and I love to just get out there and play in the dirt. I like that. In the evenings I love to cook with my husband. We just make all sorts of food. We have a screen porch, so that’s where I have my coffee in the morning. I very intentionally try to schedule chunks of free time. I do have specific hours where I have no notifications coming through on my phone. And I do try to, I don’t want to say the word escape, but it is important to take a break. Because it’s such a big sprawling job, it’s very important to me now that I’ve just completed my first year to make sure I don’t burn out.


RICHARDS: Yeah, well it’s life balance.


MCCULLOUGH: Yes.


RICHARDS: And I assume those rare moments when you don’t have texts and emails or streaming across your phone are about 3 a.m. in the morning. So that’s when you’re drinking tea in the backyard? (Smiles)


MCCULLOUGH: (Smiling) Yeah, and I prioritize my sleep. I prioritize getting outside and exercising. I’m in my early 30s. I just want to enjoy my life. I don’t want to be a workaholic. So, I’m really trying to put up some boundaries.


RICHARDS: Your love for what’s going on in the program itself has its own, let’s say, ability to relax inside the job.

Because if you’re doing a job you love, there is peace in that. But you also have to balance outside of that.


MCCULLOUGH: Yes, because there can be sort of a gray area when I walk into a business on a weekend to shop.

I’m still being asked work questions. And my presence there can be interpreted as me being there in the role of executive director. But really, I’m just buying a gift. So, there are times where I can kind of take off that hat, but not publicly.


RICHARDS: Obviously there’s a challenge to that, but there’s a significance to that as well when you’re in those roles and important to the culture in the community. They’re almost always going to see you in that role.


MCCULLOUGH: I imagine my predecessor, even though she’s retired, still gets that.


RICHARDS: And in a lot of cases, you are the brand of Main Street.


MCCULLOUGH: Yes, the ambassador, absolutely. Especially because I’m the thread connector. I am the one who is hands-on with everything. We are working to make things a little more committee based. There are other people who know about certain components, like our design grant program or the economic vitality workshops that we’ve been hosting. But we haven’t really been able to get the information out there about who is responsible for those. So, for now, it’s still me.


RICHARDS: People should realize that everything that occurs on Main Street isn’t always a MainStreet program or activity.


MCCULLOUGH: There’s a lot of things the town itself does where there won’t be a MainStreet connection. Sometimes they’re just fixing the sidewalk or doing a fire hydrant cleaning out. It’s hard sometimes for the general public or folks to separate that from MainStreet.


RICHARDS: Do you encounter that a lot?


MCCULLOUGH: Absolutely. I do try to be knowledgeable about those events or activities because we get questions. And I think that us being a centralized hub of information is good. It’s a good role for us to play because there is no other centralized hub of information. So, I try to know the dates of the town-wide yard sale and what time the downtown Halloween parade goes because I know I’ll get those questions.


RICHARDS: You field a lot of questions on just about everything that happens downtown. But being in this office brings a few more as well, doesn’t it? Do people still look to buy tickets there?


MCCULLOUGH: They do. Yes. My office, the historic train station, has not been an active train station for many, many, many years. But I do maybe twice a month, encounter people coming to my office to buy tickets. I just hope their train is not imminently on the way because they’ve got to go several blocks down to get to the actionable train station.


RICHARDS: I wanted to bring that up as an example because when you’re in MainStreet, the same with the chamber, you become an ambassador for the entire town in a lot of ways. And that without a doubt, I would say that’s part of your job description, isn’t it?


MCCULLOUGH: Well, it’s forced, but still part of the job description. Yeah, and I think to the point about wanting to be knowledgeable about a lot of different things because the public doesn’t necessarily know the compartmentalization of the town, so they come to MainStreet because MainStreet is visible. Just being able to have correct information in a timely manner about almost everything that’s going on is again another draw to Hammonton. It’s still a family inside the borders. And in a lot of cases, you know your family may fight. They may have disagreements. But there’s a unity inside the town.


RICHARDS: That family bond in a community is missing in a lot of towns across America, but it seems we’ve got it right here.


MCCULLOUGH: Yes, I think so. I think this is one of the benefits of a smaller community.


RICHARDS: Alright, so where do you see this going? What would you like to see?


MCCULLOUGH: One of the things I would love to see is something that I mentioned we’re working on this year; assessing the data to make sure that our events are serving their purpose. Looking forward I want to make sure that the things that we are hosting downtown really do benefit the businesses. They benefit the community. They benefit the people who live downtown; just really make sure that that they’re meeting our ultimate mission and goal, which is for the entire downtown to benefit and to continue to be revitalized. We’ve come a very long way, but I think there are still some things to do. And personally, I would love to see all the vacant buildings filled. I would love to have a couple of specific types of businesses that we don’t currently have to fill those vacancies and really make sure that downtown Hammonton has literally something for everyone.


RICHARDS: And I would say that is a perfect place to end. I want to thank you for coming in. I appreciate it.


MCCULLOUGH: Sure. Thank you.

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