New Main Street Leader Brings First Fridays Experience to Downtown Saline
There’s a new leader at the helm of Saline Main Street.
Saline Main Street has named Mary Dettling as executive director of the downtown revitalization organization. Holli Andrews resigned earlier this fall to take a community development position in Ypsilanti.
Coincidentally, it was Dettling’s work in Ypsilanti that convinced the Saline Main Street officials that Dettling was the right choice to lead the non-profit organization. Dettling organized the First Fridays activities in Ypsilanti, working with business owners, managers, artists, musicians, government officials and community members to put together monthly arts and culture tours through Ypsilanti’s three business districts.
She began with First Fridays as a volunteer and eventually became the director of the program before the COVID-19 pandemic. She was also working as a real estate agent and massage therapist. While she appreciates those vocations, it didn’t offer what First Fridays offered.
“I loved working as part of a community,” Dettling said.
That’s one reason she was attracted to the Saline Main Street job.
Dettling is originally from Manchester. When she was younger she worked in bookkeeping for the Manchester Village offices. A graduate of Eastern Michigan University, where she studied psychology and communications, Dettling spent 10 years living in Ypsilanti before she moved just outside Saline in Pittsfield Township two years ago.
Dettling feels comfortable with the idea of working in a small town.
“I grew up in a small town. Ypsilanti felt like a small town. So Saline feels right,” Dettling said. “Saline Main Street feels like everything I’ve wanted to do. It’s about creating community - that’s something I’m passionate about. It’s about belonging and making a difference and having fun, creating art and going to events. These are all things integral to living a rich life.”
She started working as executive director for Saline Main Street about two weeks ago. Naturally, she’s spent her first days on the job acquainting herself with the people who work and own businesses downtown.
“I’ve had a wonderful time meeting people in downtown Saline. I’m looking forward to working with the business owners. They want to see Saline succeed and that's what we want,” Dettling said. “We’re looking forward to giving people more reasons to come downtown.”
Dettling has lived in the towns east and west of Saline and spent the last two years living just outside town, so she has some knowledge about Saline’s major events and landmark downtown businesses. She’s eager to understand more about what they want from Saline Main Street.
“When I did First Fridays, I did the work with the city and organizations and I developed sponsorships and donations. But it was important to work with the business owners and get to know what their priorities are,” Dettling said. "Understanding those priorities helped us develop events that worked for them."
Early on, said that’s what Main Street’s leaders expect from Dettling.
“In my first 90 days they want me to get acquainted with everyone downtown and the key players in the city,” she said.
One of the first big tasks Dettling will launch is a strategic planning exercise.
"We're kind of coming out of COVID-19, and with a new director, now seems like a really good time to refocus," Dettling said.
Jill Durnen is the president of Saline Main Street. She said when Andrews announced she was leaving Main Street, word filtered out. Dettling and another qualified candidate learned about the vacancy and applied for the post before Main Street advertised the job. Ultimately, Dettling had a lot of the qualifications Main Street wanted.
“Her experience with First Fridays and even-planning history jumped out at us. She’s a local person who knows what Main Street is about. She’s super organized and has great social media skills. She’s also experienced with working with businesses, owners and government,” Durnen said. “The thing she doesn’t have is Main Street organizational background - but that part can be taught.”
Durnen has been a key member since it was formed in 2012. She said Dettling is taking a leadership role at an important time in the history of the organization. Saline Main Street kicked off its strategic plan work with a meeting last week.
“Things are getting back to normal after all the changes we had with COVID. Now is a good time to survey the community and work with the city and chamber and other organizations and try to understand what they want to see from Main Street,” Durnen said. “We’re always trying to guess to see what others want us to do. As a group, we’re going to drill down and see what people want, and get more people involved.”
Volunteers have been a strength of the organization. Attracting and retaining volunteers hasn’t been easy during the pandemic.
As Main Street hones its story, it also wants to do a better job of telling its story.
Everyone knows Main Street as the organization that hosts Oktoberfest or the summer music concerts.
“We’ve had a hard time telling our story. We’re not just Oktoberfest. We do all kinds of things. Oktoberfest and the events are the things everyone sees, but we’re about more than that,” Durnen said.
Main Street’s four-point approach comprises organization (volunteers), promotions (including events), design (physical improvements to downtown) and business enhancement.
City officials have openly wondered if Main Street’s team in all four points - especially business enhancement. Again, Duren said that might be because Main Street been clear about the messaging around its work to the city.
She stressed that Main Street is committed to improving the business climate downtown.
“That’s what we are all about. We want a vital downtown. We want to help the businesses that are already here and bring new businesses in,” Durnen said.
For more information about Saline Main Street, visit www.salinemainstreet.org.
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