GENOA – As the new executive director of Genoa Main Street, Jen Bristow says she "gets it."
"I have a real passion for small town businesses," she said. "I get their challenges and how much heart and money they put into them."
Bristow assumed her new duties on March 10, replacing Mim Evans, who resigned in December to become a research associate with Northern Illinois University's Center for Government Studies.
"We interviewed her and fell in love with right away," Linda Underwood, president of Genoa Main Street, told the Daily Chronicle. "She has already come up with some fun ideas."
Bristow and her husband, Troy, have started a number of small businesses themselves, starting with a coffee house where they began making jewelry they sold over the counter. For the last nine years, they've operated the Fresh Jewelry Co. in Geneva, which their oldest daughter, Cassie, will now run.
In her new position, Bristow is hoping to keep the positives that have already been established, besides creating more unity among Genoa businesses. "We're jumping in with both feet," she said.
Genoa Main Street is an award-winning nonprofit volunteer organization dedicated to preserving Genoa's historic heritage and small-town charm while promoting economic development and downtown improvements. It hosts numerous events throughout the year in an effort to bring visitors to town. Genoa was accepted as a Main Street community in 1996.
Bristow discussed some of her goals with MidWeek reporter Doug Oleson last week.
Oleson: Why did you want this position?
Bristow: I was tired of trading products for money. I was looking for something that was more part of the community. I wanted to get involved in helping people and building something bigger than myself.
Oleson: How did you hear about the job?
Bristow: We've been going to church here, and I asked a gal if she knew of something. She paused for about 30 seconds and said yes. I got an interview and they hired me. It all fit together like a puzzle. I was what they needed, and I couldn't be more pleased.
We had just put our house (in Wheaton) on the market five months earlier because we wanted to move here. Our daughter will graduate from Wheaton High School in May, and will go to Northern Illinois University for elementary education next fall. We wanted to wait for her to finish high school so we could move here.
Oleson: Is this a part-time position?
Bristow: Yes; as a nonprofit organization, they have to be careful how they spend money.
Oleson: You have some pretty big shoes to fill, replacing Mim. She's been here a long time.
Bristow: At first, I gave that a lot of thought. Mim has really different talents (from me). She was so well loved. I am trying not to compare myself to her. I have a lot of respect for her. She was gone for three months and there was a mountain of work to do. She was kind enough to come back and give me some time. That was nice of her.
Oleson: What do you plan to do first?
Bristow: I have to get my arms around what is happening. We just finished the quilt walk, and are in the middle of the scholarships. We have the Red Hat next month. The next big thing is the open air markets. They help bring people into town, and get them familiar with Genoa.
Oleson: What kind of plans do you have?
Bristow: I am bringing in fresh ideas. I am getting them ready to present at the board meeting. They are in the baby stage.
Oleson: How do you see Main Street?
Bristow: I see a lot of potential. Main Street is carrying the heart of Genoa. There are new businesses coming in.
I have learned that Genoa has a lot of heart. I haven't talked to a volunteer yet, whether they're 17 or 77, who doesn't love this town. That is really cool.
Oleson: Anything you want to say to the city of Genoa?
Bristow: I am grateful for getting such a warm welcome, and thank you. It's really my intention to put my heart and talent into making this better, not that it's not good now. I am genuinely committed. But it's going to take some time.