Interview with Holly DeKarske, Director of Downtown Development

In joining EEDC, Holly brings her experience supporting the economic development activities within downtown across the Town’s many merchants, organizations, and governmental entireties. She is responsible for developing, executing, and documenting the State of Maryland Main Street and Arts and Entertainment District programs. We are thrilled to have her on the team.

 

EEDC: Talk about your previous experience.

 

Holly DeKarske (HD): For the past four years, I was the Executive Director for Venture Lititz in Pennsylvania, whose function was to support businesses in the downtown area. So basically, the same type of job that I will be doing here.

 

Lititz has a large tourism base, and my job was to market the businesses for tourism and visitors. I also did community-based marketing, trying to get the people who live there to shop and dine downtown. I also managed all the social media and the website and events such as Lititz Fire and Ice, which attracted 50,000 people over that weekend and was the biggest event that the town put on.

 

We had a ton of really large events throughout the year. But they weren’t all done by the Main Street program; some were done by other nonprofits. My job was to coordinate, keep track of them all, add them to the website, etc.

 

EEDC: Was that job something you stepped into, or you created?

 

HD: Venture Lititz is going into its 15th year of being a continuously running Main Street program. Before I arrived, there was a director who had been there for almost ten years. They had started to run out of funding, and fundraising wasn’t her strong suit.

 

The program had been very heavily focused on tourism and marketing, as they were growing their downtown. By the time I started, we had shifted more from economic development to bringing in things for our community. The director had been gone eight months before I came in, and besides needing to raise funds to pay for salaries, benefits, and programming, relations with the merchants were not good. The prior director had burned some bridges, and there were a lot of repairs to make. At the same time, the person who had been running the Fire and Ice event canceled it and just left town. So I took that over without having ownership of the social media pages and the website. I also had to compete with stuff being put on the old page that was wrong.

 

EEDC: What made you choose the Eastern Shore?

 

HD: My daughter and I used to come to the Eastern Shore all the time. It was one of those things where we would say, ‘someday that’s where we should move; that’s where we should live.’ And then we went through COVID. It was like having a mini midlife crisis, and it made me go: ‘huh, maybe we shouldn’t wait for someday.’ But I loved what I was doing in Lititz. Then magically, this opportunity appeared, and here I am.

 

EEDC: How do you think you can make the most significant impact?

 

HD: So the biggest thing about being a Main Street Manager is being that connected person, that liaison between merchants, town, and state and local government. You’re the facilitator and the communicator, also the advocate on behalf of the small businesses and downtown who will do things that are going to work best for them.

 

EEDC: What have you been doing so far to make that happen?

 

HD: I’ve started to meet with the merchants. I’m also working on a four-page (and growing) document outlining plans on what has to be done, almost entirely centered around communication: Communication with the merchants, communications with the town, communications with the public. It’s essential that everyone knows what’s going on, even stuff that seems basic and simple. We need to make sure that there are multiple lines of communication, whether through social media, email, newspaper, or text.

 

Also, from the perspective of a long-time visitor to Easton, there are many communication channels here, which can get very confusing. My plan is to try to make this a little more organized and make sure that we rise to the top of a Google search so that you’re getting accurate information.

 

EEDC: So, is that part of your long-term goal?

 

HD: My long-term goal is to make sure that everyone understands the brand of downtown, which is Easton downtown. And to use us (EEDC) as the resource for things in town, whether you want to open a business, you need information to continue to run your business, or you want to visit downtown–a clear, unified brand.

 

I want to make sure that everyone knows that we’re here to work for the same common goal as everyone else. We want foot traffic in town. We want to have events that bring people to town with the outcome of an event, especially if it’s a big one, being that people should want to come back again later when it’s less busy so they can enjoy the town. So I want the same thing. I think everyone else wants for downtown–feet in the streets and prosperity.

 

EEDC. What do you want people to know about you?

 

HD:  I want people to understand that this not my first time here. I actually have some understanding of how things work on the Eastern Shore. My daughter and I purposely chose to come to visit, and we would go to Cambridge, St. Michaels, Oxford, and Rock Hall. It’s not like I’m coming here not knowing anyone or anything. I have a lot to learn, but all of this is not entirely unknown. I’ve shopped and eaten here, I’ve enjoyed the attractions. There’s so much more potential for our downtown. Easton is incredible, it’s beautiful, and I’m excited to be here.

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