by Pete Mazzaccaro
In October, local business leaders in Chestnut Hill announced the formation of a new Community Development Corporation that would be funded with $850,000 of redirected business taxes from Chestnut Hill Hospital over 10 years.
Last week, that new organization hired Martha Sharkey to be the executive director overseeing the Chestnut Hill Business Association, Chestnut Hill Business Improvement District and the Parking Foundation.
Sharkey is no stranger to Chestnut Hill.
A Lancaster native, Sharkey was the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s community manager and held that position from 2007 to 2008. She left to work for the Franklin Institute, where she was the assistant director of corporate giving. Although she had left the CHCA, she remained close and currently lives with her husband, Paul, and daughter Claire in Wyndmoor.
“When I heard about this position, I decided to apply for it,” Sharkey said. “I love Chestnut Hill. I made a lot of good friendships and connections with people when I was here in the past. Paul and I always come back here. It’s where we shop, where we eat and where we come on the weekend.”
Aside from her experience at the CHCA, Sharkey has a great deal of prior experience in retail and downtown shopping districts. In Lancaster, while working for the Heritage Center of Lancaster County, she was a member of the Downtown Investment Board, chairperson of its Retail Committee and a member of the Lancaster Arts Committee.
Part of her role there, Sharkey said, was to constantly look at how to bring more people into Lancaster, which was experiencing its own “downtown revival.”
Sharkey wants to see Chestnut Hill build on its own strengths.
“I think Chestnut Hill is such a unique area and such a fun area,” she said. “People are so passionate about the community. So many have been here for so long – some for generations. As we look ahead and plan to take it to the next level, we want to build on what that feeling is when we’re in Chestnut Hill, from shopping on the Avenue to having coffee with friends.
I think CH is just an amazing community and has so much to offer. This community has everything you need – from the hardware store to grocery stores. It’s just a great community for families. It has something for everyone.”
How does that message get out?
“We have so many successful events,” Sharkey said. “We look at the numbers, and they’re good. We have 25 to 30 thousand coming to the spring and fall festivals. We have a successful book festival and a Harry Potter event. We want to build on those programs and begin building new ones to get the word out. There’s so much opportunity to reach younger people to see we have great restaurants, shops and that it’s really a great community to come to.”
But promotion won’t be the only part of Sharkey’s job. As the director of three organizations, she is going to be paying attention to get those organizations working together and also serving those organizations’ constituencies: the business owners. She’s been going door to door to meet business owners and has already planned a meet-and-greet at the Chestnut Hill Welcome Center offices on E. Highland Avenue for business owners.
“My first priority in this position is to get out and listen,” Sharkey said. “I want to talk to the business owners and talk with them. I’m trying to hear what they’re interested in seeing, what their concerns are. Looking at all that they say and developing a plan to address those things.”
Those issues include parking and bringing more foot traffic to the Avenue. And filling vacancies, something that will be a part of Sharkey’s workload.
“I’ll be working with [retail recruiter] Laurie Whightman,” Sharkey said. “I’m excited to be part of that process and working with her.”
It’s a job with a lot of challenges, but Sharkey said she feels she’s received a very warm welcome in her first week.
“People have been very welcoming,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of great reception from people who knew me from when I worked with volunteers here in 2007. I missed Chestnut Hill. It’s good to be back.”