At 32, Emaleigh Doley has earned a top-notch reputation for grassroots organizing.
Much of her volunteer work has focused on Germantown: She and her sister Aine are founders of The W Rockland Street Project, an effort to invigorate their city block “through community organizing and small-scale urban interventions,” according to their website.
City Council has recognized Doley’s service, and last year, digital news site Billy Penn named her one of 15 young community leaders who are positively reshaping the face of the city.
This August, Doley merged her advocacy interests with her communications background by taking a job with the Germantown United Community Development Corporation (GUCDC). As the new corridor manager, Doley fills Germantown United’s only full-time position, a substantial challenge even though the nonprofit’s mission is simple: to revitalize the area’s business corridors.
Her position includes securing grants, and facilitating programs that will help attract and retain local businesses.
The Central Germantown Business Corridor includes about 275 business spaces along a corridor that includes Chelten Avenue between Baynton and Morris Streets, Germantown Avenue between Washington Lane and Berkley Street, the Maplewood Mall and intersecting streets. A 2012 City Planning Commission report showed that 78.5 percent of the properties were occupied.
Vacancies have remained high, and Doley says that GUCDC “has started tracking and cataloging” empty storefronts.
Garlen Capita, GUCDC board president, says that Doley has not only an “unmatched dedication to Germantown” but also excellent promotion skills. “While we can all imagine where we want Germantown to be, she has the energy and passion to make it happen,” he says.
Surrounded by a committed citizenry with well-articulated ideals, Doley is clear about her practical philosophy.
“I think it’s very important to be routed and grounded in reality,” she says. “Germantown has pockets of businesses that are thriving, but we don’t have greater diversity in the types of businesses that would appeal to Germantown as a whole.”
Census data shows that there is a larger middle-class presence in Germantown than some may realize, Doley says. “A lot of money that lives in the neighborhood leaves the neighborhood.”
She sees two ways to keep these dollars in Germantown. “One is introducing people to amenities already here, like multiple hardware stores that fulfill basic needs.”
Doley is working with a web-design team on a site that will showcase these businesses and attractions. Now, she says, “there is not a digital presence that does it in a unified way.”
The second way to channel spending is to beautify the business corridor. At bi-monthly business-information sessions, Germantown United offers free advice on topics such as securing grants for storefront improvements and greening projects. Recently, with letters of support from the GUCDC, two local businesses secured Storefront Improvement Program grants — Rita’s Water Ice at 5815 Wayne Ave. and Happy Bread, a café soon to open at 5701 Germantown Ave.
“Visual improvements can help people shift their point of view,” says Doley. Beautification projects — such as repopulating trees through Tree Germantown — “instantly create change you can see and can execute without a lot of money.”
For those changes that require strong financial investment, the GUCDC has written a good number of successful grant proposals. This fall, it will welcome a group of professional planners funded by a grant from the American Planning Association. A Community Planning Assistance Team will do an assessment and market analysis of two to three blocks (proposed areas include Chelten Avenue between Germantown and Morris), then offer advice on re-investment and revitalization strategies.
Doley looks forward to their advice. Now that her advocacy work has found her a paid position, she says she can dedicate much more of herself to “making things happen.”
The Germantown United Community Development Corporation holds its next meeting on Wednesday, September 16, from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. at the Germantown Historical Society. Local business owners and potential owners are welcome.
A view along xx street shows empty and filled storefronts.