It started with a phone call nearly a year ago.
Interested in opening a high-end home furnishings consignment shop in Chestnut Hill, Laurie Wightman contacted then-retail recruiter Eileen Reilly to begin a conversation about potential locations.
The affluent northwest Philadelphia neighborhood was Wightman’s first choice. As a child, she would often make the short trip from Maple Glen in Montgomery County for dinners out with her family and Christmas shopping.
She carried a passion for the area ever since.
” I have lived in various cities, I’ve traveled extensively inside the country, outside the country, and to date, I still say this is one of the most special and unique places to live, to walk around, to experience,” said Wightman.
Over the course of several meetings, Wightman and Reilly developed a nice rapport with one another.
Chestnut Hill didn’t ultimately work for Wightman’s business, with which she no longer has ties. But impressed by the 34-year-old, Reilly called to suggest she apply for her position.
“Every quality that I knew this job needed, I saw in Laurie. Right off the bat, I saw the same kind of passion and relentless pursuit of a dream,” said Reilly, who resigned from the part-time post in May after two years on the job.
Wightman heeded Reilly’s advice and, after a multi-month interview process, was recently hired by the Chestnut Hill Business Improvement District (BID) from a pool of about a dozen candidates. Monday marked her first day in her new position.
In Wightman’s estimation, Chestnut Hill is the “quintessential” neighborhood in Philadelphia. Germantown Avenue, the neighborhood’s commercial corridor, plays a big role in that characterization.
In the late 90s, Wightman said she started noticing signs that the 10-block stretch’s profile was fading. It pained her.
“It was difficult to see such a phenomenal town go south,” she said.
More recently, Wightman thinks the Avenue’ luster is a bit shinier. She’s excited to pick up where Reilly, with whom she credits much of that upturn, left off.
“I have a wonderful base, a wonderful foundation,” she said.
To it, Wightman brings an extensive background in advertising, marketing and sales. She’s worked for a number of high-profile outfits, including The Philadelphia Inquirer, WXPN, Entertainment Weekly and US News & World Report.
Wightman said the persistence required as part of those positions will be one of her chief assets as she works to fill commercial vacancies in Chestnut Hill.
In May, Reilly told NewsWorks that storefront vacancies had dropped by 20 percent during her time as retail recruiter. There are approximately 125 businesses on the Avenue.
Beginning this week, Reilly is helping to train Wightman. She’s been hired by the BID, this time as a consultant, to assist on an as needed basis.
“I don’t believe she’s going to need much help at all,” noted Reilly, who recently launched e.vitalize, a marketing and consulting firm.
The first part of the job is to introduce Wightman to the business owners. Building and maintaining those relationships will be key, said Wightman.
To get the ball rolling, Wightman has already popped into a number of restaurants and shops along the Avenue for a quick introduction.
Lisa Howe, co-owner of Artisans on the Avenue, met Wightman very briefly, but said, “I fully expect her to be wonderful. The [hiring] process was very through.”
It’ll likely take some time before Wightman completely settles into the job, but she said she’s ready for whatever comes her way.
“There’s obviously always going to be challenges to be had and I’m up for the task,” she said.