Sunday, July 08, 2018

Jessica Eshleman: New Director of Union Square Main Streets

Jessica Eshleman

Jessica Eshleman: New Director of Union Square Main Streets

By Doug Holder

I saw Jessica Eshleman in the crowded Bloc11 Cafe. She gave me a sort of a half bow—got her coffee, and joined me in my inner sanctum at the back of the Bloc.

Eshleman seems to be a person of abundant energy, and is well-oiled in the mechanics of how to handle an interview.

She has been appointed director of Union Square Main Street here in Somerville, MA. It is an organization that (according to its website) oversees the, “...continued advocacy of the Union Square business district and neighborhood.”

Eshleman is from a small town outside of Boston. Now she conveniently lives in Union Square, and is in the midst of a love affair with the environs. She said, ' I love its variety, diversity, my neighbors, everything about it.”

She is certainly no neophyte to the Main Street concept. She was the past Executive Director of Main Street Concord Inc. In her role there-- one of the many things she did was to help make the Concord Business District more pedestrian friendly. She said, "I am all about being multi-mobile. I wanted to make sure that people could traverse the vibrant center easily by foot, bike and car.” She continued, “From what I heard after I left Concord –the district had significantly enhanced economic development.”

As far as Somerville goes—Eshleman is certainly enthusiastic. She will do her best to support the iconic Fluff Festival that celebrates the invention of marshmallow fluff in our city, as well as the Saturday farmer's market, continue to support the arts and provide brass tacks assistance to small businesses in the district.

Behind the many good things that gentrification and “revitalization” can bring, there is always the lingering specter of displacement. So I asked Eshleman about the less than sunnier side of the street. I inquired how would these funky stores, all the unique stuff the Square offers, be affected by the the rapid rise of rents. How will Union Square not end up like, say Newton—or worse-- the antiseptic desert of Kendall Square in Cambridge? Eshleman's tone changed a bit. She reflected, “ There are no easy answers to this. But I will promise to start conversations among landlords, tenants and businessman to see how we can mitigate the problem.”

But in spite of the treacherous shoals the new Executive Director faces—she has not lost any of her zeal and remains stolidly optimistic.

Eshleman told me that a while ago she completed the Appalachian Trail, a 2,189 mile trek through the wilderness. It took he 8 months. She suffered a broken wrist—but still persisted. This is evidently a woman who does not give up without a fight. Exactly what we need—here-- in the Paris of New England.

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