Onancock’s Main Street Program Manager Reflects on 2021 Main Street Now Conference Experience

After living in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and New York City, our guest blogger, Jenny Gehman (left) headed to Virginia’s Eastern Shore where she now serves as Program Manager of Onancock Main Street, working to revive and preserve the small town of Onancock, VA, “A little slice of nowhere else.” When asked about why she loves her job, Gehman always emphasizes how Main Street incorporates her love of people, beauty, design and making the world a better place – little tweaks lead to big, positive changes!

In April 2021, I had the opportunity to attend the Main Street Now online conference, and it was invigorating to immerse myself in everything Main Street alongside other Main Street enthusiasts for three days! One of the workshops which I chose to attend was, specifically, designed for Program Managers of Main Street communities all over the country. During the workshop, participants were asked to partake in smaller, more intimate discussions and, thus, were placed in chatrooms. Out of 4,000 conference attendees, I was randomly placed in a chatroom with one other Program Manager who happened to be from my hometown in Boyertown, PA. It was exciting to connect with someone who was working to preserve and enhance my hometown – the town that shaped part of who I am today.

Years ago, prior to knowing what the Main Street organization was, I had observed the incremental evolution of Boyertown, PA when I would come “home” to visit. It was evident that someone was paying close attention to all aspects of the town, moving it gently into the future while preserving its past. The historic movie theatre that I frequented as a young girl is still a functioning cinema and is now called The State Theatre Preservation Society, a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to preserve and operate the historic 1912 theatre. This goes to show that Main Street has been working behind the scenes for years, preserving and enriching the cultural life of this town and so many other downtowns across the nation.

Today, I am fortunate to be a part of this network of Main Street communities and to serve as Program Manager of Onancock Main Street, a newly designated Virginia Main Street (VMS) Community, located about four hours south of my original hometown, on the Eastern Shore peninsula of Virginia. Onancock is now interconnected with other Main Street communities that focus on the revitalization of small, historic towns that remind us of who we are, who we were and who we are waiting to become!