A Greene Light for Downtown Fairmont
Public agencies, private businesses, foundations and non-profit groups are constantly striving to inject life and energy into local communities. There is no one-size-fits-all formula for successful community development, but sometimes having the right person in the right place at the right time can make all the difference.
It’s early evening here at the Joe-N-Throw Co-op in downtown Fairmont. The business – a partnership between a pottery studio and a coffee and craft beer café - has only been open for about two months, but it’s already attracting new people to downtown.
“My name is Bob Layne. I’m a coffee roaster here in Fairmont and I also work the coffee half of the Joe-N-Throw Co-op…and my name is Michael Ray, and I’m a potter and pottery instructor here at the Joe-N-Throw Co-Op.”
These two guys met at a beard growing contest – part of a celebration of the state’s 150th birthday last year. They started setting up next to each other at the local farmers’ market and other venues, but they say they became partners in this bricks and mortar business because of Kate Greene, Executive Director of Main Street Fairmont. Layne says Greene connected them with an investor and helped get their business off the ground. He says she is very good at connecting key players.
“A lot of us are here, but we just didn’t know how to connect,” says Layne. “And what we could do to really, make our town better. It’s nice to have a little direction there.”
For her part, Greene says it’s all about relationship building, collaboration and creativity.
“We’re a non-profit…grass roots,” says Greene. “So a huge portion of what we do has to be creative, because we lack the resources otherwise. So we’re always looking for ways that people fit in and who can help us reach the end goal.”
And that end goal, Greene says, is a livable community…a sense of place…and connection.
Next door to Joe-N-Throw is another new business – All Things Herbal Local Market. Owner Christa Blais says Greene organized opportunities that helped her go from dreaming about opening a business to actually doing it.
“Kate’s been wonderful,” says Blais. “I did the small business bootcamp they did early this winter – and that kind of gave me the confidence to go ahead and get started.”
All the pieces and partners are falling into place, says Greene.
“We’re in a very unique situation right now in Fairmont where our community leaders have that vision and they are ready to embrace every possible opportunity and move forward,” says Greene. “And to have that going for us is pretty big.”
Greene says Fairmont has solid infrastructure for moving forward – a plentiful supply of historic and available buildings and many, many creative people willing to get involved. She launched a weekly gathering – “The 12:30 Room” – where those creative people can come pitch an idea and find partners. She says finding money is always a challenge and she would like to see some state funding dedicated to Main Street programs across the state.
Greene grew up in Fairmont, but then moved to Montana. A few years ago, she and her family returned to build their life in her hometown. Kathryn Wyrosdick, Fairmont’s Director of Planning and Development, says Greene has brought a new energy to community development efforts – an energy that comes from Greene’s own sense of place and connection.
“She is all about building up the community in which she lives,” says Wyrosdick. “And Fairmont being her hometown you know you can kind of see that in the way that she acts and works and plays even.”
The Marion County Chamber of Commerce has recognized Kate Greene with its Visionary Award…. an award that is not given every year. Chamber President Tina Shaw says it’s only given under extraordinary circumstances. She says the energy and synergy downtown Fairmont is experiencing is something special and she credits Greene.
“She works very well with outside groups. She works very well with her board, with the community, with businesses downtown,” says Shaw. “And I think she has a very calm effect of things are going to happen downtown.”
And, Greene promises, things are going to happen downtown.
“This is a great place to be,” says Greene. “I keep telling everybody. Two years. Two years. You give us two more years and Fairmont will be a whole new place.”