By Shanteé Woodards The Capital, Annapolis, Md.
Lisa Thompson's first introduction to Annapolis came in the 1980s, back when she was a congressional page who visited the city for a day.
Later, she came to the city as a business owner who was seeking a location for her retail store, Baldaquin. However, the rents were too high in Annapolis and she was able to get better lease terms in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C., where she ran it for 10 years.
Thompson and her husband live in Washington, but as sailors, they are frequent visitors to Annapolis.
Now Thompson has a new connection as executive director of the Annapolis Partnership, which aims to promote city businesses. The organization formed last year after members of the Annapolis Business Association and the MainStreets Annapolis Partnership voted to reinvent themselves with a new program. Thompson previously served as director of the Waterford Homes Tour and Craft Exhibit, a juried arts and craft fair in Waterford, VA. She has also worked as director of the Department of Main Street for the City of Paducah, Kentucky.
In the upcoming months, a new board will be elected for the organization and Kitty Dougoud, Kentucky Main Street Program Coordinator, will come here to offer training.
Thompson started work less than a month ago and works out of donated office space on the second floor of Hermann Advertising. She talked to The Capital about her past as a business owner, her work in Paducah and plans for Annapolis.
Question: What attracted you to this job?
A: I have been a Main Street program director before and I have this thing about historic, walkable communities. I saw this position advertised on the National Trust website ... Five years ago, when I was in Western Kentucky doing the same sort of job, if my next job could have been anywhere, Annapolis would have been high on my list.
My husband I have sailed the Chesapeake for years. We used to keep our boat in Galesville, at Hartge's. ... We would drive here, sail here and I've just always had a real soft spot for Annapolis.
When I went to open my own retail store in 1996, I looked at commercial space here in Annapolis. I decided at that time to open my store in Georgetown in DC. As a small business owner, I was someone who would come to the city. I still kept my eyes and ears open looking for space.
Question: Tell me about your store. Why didn't you decide to open in Annapolis?
A: We sold fine linens, china, crystal, silver. Most of it was imported from Europe. The rents in Annapolis were more expensive than the rents in Georgetown. That was what really made me make the decision. I felt Georgetown had more of a sustainable, year-round business. I looked at the business in Annapolis as being very seasonal. And it really boiled down to the lease terms I was able to negotiate in Georgetown were more favorable than they were here.
I'm hoping to take that experience and look at what opportunities we have in our downtown area now. How do we position ourselves so that we're more competitive, so a small startup business can feel confident they can come to Annapolis and have a successful business and career here?
Question: You handled the Main Streets program in Paducah before. How does that town compare to Annapolis?
A: Paducah is somewhat smaller than Annapolis, but not by much. The National Quilt Museum is in Paducah. It gets 45,000 visitors a year. There's a $45 million performing arts hall that's there. It has its own symphony and there's a 26-block arts district that was part of the program I managed. We sought to attract artists from all over the country who would relocate to Paducah.
It was just a really dynamic, very creative community in a historic district... There are a lot of similarities in the two communities. The folks in Paducah were very passionate about their community and I find that to be true here too. People just love Annapolis and they're willing to volunteer their time and work hard to make it work. the folks in Paducah were the same way.
Question: As an outsider, how will that impact your work with the business community?
A: I'm an outsider in the sense that I don't have deep roots here ... But I have experienced so much of what this community has to offer as a visitor. What I want to do is look at things through that visitor perspective. But I also see them as a property owner, as a landlord, as a tenant and all these other experiences that I've had in my life.
There are all these different tags, these identifications people (use). I'm on Maryland Avenue, I'm in Inner West Street. I'm Main Street. .. As a visitor, I didn't appreciate the distinctions that everyone here makes. I don't know how many other people, except for those who are deeply involved in each of those groups, do either.
If someone from Davidsonville (comes here) and let's say they're going to an oyster special or restaurant in Eastport. They go over there for lunch, but then they might go to the Hammond-Harwood House to see an exhibit. They might find themselves over here at an art gallery buying a pice of modern art. I don't know that that person is going to really understand the distinction that they were in Eastport, Maryland Avenue and Inner West Street. They're going to say to their friend, 'Hey I just had the best day in Annapolis.'
Maybe the Annapolis Partnership is how we bridge these different areas and figure out how do we create an Annapolis experience for the person that's going to come here.
Question: What can be done to promote businesses at Market House?
A: "One of the things I would like to do with (Annapolis Partnership) is create more of a local marketing presence, so not only would that address the folks at Market House but it would also address concerns of (other) businesses.
Market House in particular is really interesting. I'm a foodie. I love to cook; I love to eat. I have seen and been to some really wonderful markets that offer fresh produce, fresh meats and put up a great oyster bar. Maybe we can look at trying to attract some culinary artisans, sort of entrepreneurs, into that space so that it's kind of incubator space so somebody who is thinking about coming to Annapolis can start there and then work there way up into a full-fledged brick and mortar.
As a sailor who would sail into this community, it is always nice to be able to buy supplies. From a business standpoint, you also have to make it sustainable year round. I'm looking forward to learning more about who is in there now, what are the long-term plans for the property and anything that Annapolis Partnership can do, we'll be happy to assist.