Frances Jo Hamilton enjoyed her final First Friday as executive director of Main Street Delaware last week.
Hamilton moves up the ladder of the nonprofit organization to the state level. She will commute to Columbus on Aug. 22 for her new job as director of revitalization for Heritage Ohio, the parent nonprofit of Main Street Delaware. Hamilton will work with more than 20 Main Street communities in Ohio.
“It’s nice to be still involved but at a different level,” she said.
The Delaware organization’s board has formed a committee to handle the transition period and has assembled a search committee to fill the position.
Main Street Delaware, which organizes the popular event in downtown on the first Friday of each month, was established in 1999, the same year Hamilton volunteered as a guide for downtown tours for the organization.
“I had a bunch of cute little stories to tell,” she said.
Hamilton would spend her summers in Delaware with her grandparents, who owned the former West End Grill. Her grandmother also worked in administration for the police department.
“This was the first downtown I was allowed to walked around by myself,” she said.
Hamilton ventured into different subjects at Southern State Community College, starting out in math and science before switching to art and education. She became involved in youth ministries and was certified as a draftsman in Columbus.
She worked for Design Tek Adventure from 2005 to 2008, around the time Hamilton joined one of the four committees for Main Streets. She was hired as an interim director for the nonprofit in October 2007, bringing a new wave of stability for the position and the organization, according to board members at the time of her hiring.
Dan Negley, who was the nonprofit’s board president in 2007, said her predecessors did not stay in the position for more than a year as high turnover is typical for nonprofits.
Additionally, Main Street Delaware’s finances at the time were not great, said Donna Meyer, who was the nonprofit’s board treasurer around the same time. The organization also sought to be accredited by Heritage Ohio, but required a full-time executive director.
“It was important to us to get this accreditation,” Meyer said.
With the help of donors, Main Street was able to get out of debt and started the search process for a full-time executive director. Heritage Ohio recommended that businesses would respond well to directors who have good people skills, Negley said.
And Hamilton fit that need.
“One of her strengths is to engage people,” he said. “She has a good personality for that” position, which included volunteer recruitment. Hamilton worked with about 100 volunteers and strived to have one-on-one discussions with each of them to determine their interests and strengths.
“It was a decision we never regretted,” Meyer said. “She just did a wonderful job.”
The position was a tough spot, Meyer added, because Hamilton had to work with everybody from local government to downtown business and building owners.
“She did it quite well,” Meyer said. “I frankly think she’s irreplaceable.”
Hamilton said she remembered the early days of First Fridays when only three businesses remained opened past 6 p.m. and attracted about 15 to 30 attendants. Downtown had a 45 percent vacancy rate at the time as well. But the district’s occupancy is now at 96 percent with First Fridays attracting more than 3,000 people each month, she said.
“There’s a lot of vibrancy in the downtown,” Negley said.
He added that the board should have a “good feel” for the position’s ideal candidate.
But leaving the post is “bittersweet,” Hamilton said, as she’ll miss being on the inner loop and the conversations at meetings.
“This is one of those jobs that never really feels like work,” she said.
But Hamilton emphasized that Main Street Delaware does more than First Fridays. Aside from sponsoring the farmers markets and Farm to Table events, the nonprofit has also provided consultations, trainings and support for businesses in the downtown. She said the organization needs to continue collaborating with the city, county and other organizations.
Main Street Delaware is “the No. 1 reason for the way the downtown is,” she said.