Upham's Corner Online

Zachary Cohen Talks about Upham's Corner Main Street

Posted: May 25, 2011     Nancy J Conrad

You can think of life as a moving escalator with opportunities for stepping up.  You expect the best, you give your best and in the process you get to learn what you're passionate about, the special talents you bring to the plate.

So you get a job and do your best.  What attracts you, what makes your eyes sparkle and compels your energy, when you look back on it, that's where your passions lie. 

The marks you set, your footprints in the sand, the relationships you establish, all of it strengthens the organization and gives you a chance to grow and understand yourself better.  

But now you,re at the top of the escalator.  It's time to move on.  It,s time for you to step off at the level to which you have been moving all along.  Its time to let someone else to bring the organization along while you explore another facet of your life.

Zachary Cohen, Executive Director, Upham's Corner Main Street is leaving the organization he has served for the last four years, leaving it in much better condition than it was back in 2007.  He came to UCMS while seeking a place where he could exercise and explore his passion for community building - discovered while working with patients at MacLean Hospital.  

The job at UCMS provided so much more, an opportunity to continue his own professional growth while he helped the organization stabilize, grow and mature.  On a personal note, he discovered that he had roots in Upham's Corner.  His grandmother had worked at a clothing store located across from the Strand Theatre.  The owner?  His great-grandmother.   That puts it almost directly across the street from the UCMS office.

Remember the adage:  "Always leave on a high note."  UCMS has just completed its strategic plan, putting in place a cohesive vision for how the organization will function for the years ahead.  At the same time, Zach identified a need to return to school to hone his business skills.  There couldn,t be a better time to turn the reins over to someone else.

UCMSWhen Zachary Cohen accepted the position of Executive Director, Upham's Corner Main Street, he took over an organization that was a significant challenge.
  • It was in debt.  Back in 2007 inadequate attention to fundraising had left the organization without sufficient funds to pay salaries, so UCMS board members had made personal loans to the organization.

  • It had problems with the IRS - technical issues.

  • It wasn't following the Main Street structure - The Main Street model calls for four committees: organization, economic restructuring, promotions and design. UCMS had only one - economic restructuring. 

  • The UCMS board was weak - only a handful of board members were active and provided direction.  The level of investment by Board members was lower than it needed to be.

  • Office files were a mess - too many filing cabinets, no index and no ability to find the right paperwork
All of that has changed.  Zach's first year was focused on stabilizing the organization.  Overall conditions have turned around significantly. UCMS couldn't be in better health now. 
  • The debt was paid off as a result of the early Urban Safari fundraisers.

  • After many phone calls to the IRS, the tax issues were resolved.

  • UCMS worked to create the full set of committees defined by the Main Street model along with chairs who could also be on the board.

  • New board members were identified who were clearly invested in the organization and were willing to express their opinions and give direction.

  • Old files were cleared out and the office organized
UC News:  What else has changed since 2007?

Zach:  People see Upham's Corner Main Street and the district as a viable organization that has the ability to make an impact on the neighborhood.  I think that is much more significant than it was when I arrived.

UC News:  How did you improve the efficacy of the organization?

Zach:  I think it's the one-on-one relationships more than anything else.  It's listening, being out there and available and being a trustworthy person, building people's trust.

With a new board member, if they find we are doing projects that have a goal and that we are an organization focused on turning ideas into action, that leads them to believe in what we are doing.  They then share that with other people in their network.

I also think some basic things things are important - follow through on e-mails and phone calls, for example.  We do a very good job of following up and making decisions in a timely enough manner that people feel that they come to us, they will be able to get their questions answered in a reliable, honest and thoughtful way.

Zach:  The other part of it is the projects we have chosen to do.  The St. Kevin's visioning exercise was important because we were able to engage a lot of different organizations and advertise it in the community at large.  We also showed the desire to represent everybody.

We have really focused on how to make this organization more representative of the community so that decisions we make are beneficial to the community as a whole.  This increases the desire to participate.

Examples of projects carried out over the last four years include:

  1. Strand Theatre - supporting the concerts, developing a stronger relationship and connecting the community to the Strand

  2. Holiday promotions events - Holiday Passport, business decorations contest, "Receipts to Retreat"

  3. Local Food Dinner at Restaurant Laura which brought 70 people (mostly from the suburbs) to the restaurant and to Upham's Corner

  4. Business networking breakfasts, nine in all with an average attendance of 60

  5. Store front upgrades through the Design Committee - 19 Ramsey St, 16 Hancock St (5 stores in all) and 500 Columbia Rd (the Municipal Bldg)

  6. Staff - In prior years UCMS was able to expand its capacity by using interns from Wentworth Institute technology.  In 2010 they hired a program manager who helped stay in touch with what was happening in the business district and move projects forward.

  7. Urban Safari as major fundraiser (4 years)

  8. Move the UCMS office to a visible storefront
Zachary Cohen shared his vision about the future of Upham's Corner and Upham's Corner Main Street.
  • New Executive Director properly trained
  • Follow the strategic plan
  • Collaborative projects
  • Get to know the community better
  • Five years from now

Executive Director

I'd like to see a new executive director come in and spend a few months getting to know the community.  That means interacting with everybody on the board and talking with every business owner in the neighborhood.  Beyond that there are our funders, the neighborhood associations and the City of Boston.  Networking is really important - using each person you meet to meet others, and trying to understand all those people's visions for the neighborhood. 

UCMSStrategic Plan

My hope is that we'll have a stronger board that is more representative of the community and that we will have an expanding staff. I'd like to see the board and committees begin to follow very closely the strategic plan and the infrastructure put in place by the strategic plan.

Use the strategic plan to make a clearer plan for our programmatic direction.  Let the infrastructure lead to stronger programs and their support.

Collaborative Projects

I'd like the programmatic committees beginning to work in the next year on collaborative projects across committees - economic restructuring, promotions and design committees.  They would work together to accomplish one-of-projects in the neighborhood that are visible, impactful and can grow and develop. 

The Community

Getting to know the community means expanding our networks.  We should continue working with the existing neighborhood associations but branch out.  Work more closely and more often with the impact organizations such as Dorchester Bay and DSNI.  Also tap into churches and schools and use those places to connect with more community members.

In Five Years

I see an Upham's Corner business district that is more walkable, more visually appealing and more connected to the community with more traffic and more people shopping at the stores. 

By then additional storefront projects will be completed so that the heart of the district is more appealing.  We also want to make sure the businesses and residents are connected - the right goods and services for the people who shop here.

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