There’s a notebook on Irene Miller’s desk that she calls her “idea book,” and the pages have been filling up since she was named executive director of the Downtown State College Improvement District in September.
They’re not just her own — she collects them from business owners, downtown visitors and shoppers.
“People have ideas for everything,” Miller said. “People love their community; they love where they live.”
The 31-year-old counts herself among that group. She moved around a lot as a child, still carrying a hint of an accent from her time living in Mississippi. When she visited a friend in State College, she said she fell in love with the area and has been here for six years.
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Before being appointed by the DSCID board, Miller was with Centre Foundation for four years coordinating events, marketing and donor development. She said the community aspect of the DSCID executive director job appealed to her.
“We’re going to have so much fun,” Miller said. “It’s such a great community, there’s such great energy ... I’m looking to draw even more people in.”
Bringing more locals downtown is also the goal of Sharon Herlocher, chairwoman of the DSCID board, and she thinks Miller is the right person to spearhead the effort.
“She has brought a nice energy to our staff and the town itself,” she said. “Downtown is a vibrant, energetic place and it’s nice to have people emulate that in their everyday lives.”
DSCID is a Neighborhood Improvement District that extends from Atherton Street to Sowers Street, College Avenue to Highland Alley. According to its website, the DSCID “is devoted to preserving and enhancing the value and vitality of downtown, and works to retain, expand and attract businesses and investment to improve the downtown environment.” Or, as Miller explains it, “Our goal is to make downtown a destination — a place where you can come to play, live and work.”
Since she’s lived in the area, Miller said downtown has always held a special place. Her first introduction might have been Spats Cafe, which helped satisfy a craving for southern food.
“I’ve always loved exploring (downtown),” she said. “Every restaurant downtown has a special celebration story.”
Now, she’s getting to know the faces behind the downtown storefronts, and she wants other people to do the same. A series of videos posted on the DSCID Facebook page leading up to Small Business Saturday aimed to do that, introducing viewers to owners and managers of businesses like Appalachian Outdoors, Old State Clothing Co., Fitted Cuts, Kitchen Kaboodle and more. Expect to see more through the holiday shopping season.
“What I want to show is the personification of downtown,” Miller said. “It’s not necessarily about supporting downtown business — it’s about supporting our community.”
Matt Patterson, who owns State College Jersey Mike’s Subs locations with his wife, Kristie, said he appreciates those videos and the message behind them.
“They’re the names and the face of downtown and without those folks, you’re just going to have, unfortunately, corporate entities and you’ll lose that small-town feel,” said Patterson, who thinks the expansion of Downtown State College’s social media presence has been one of Miller’s greatest contributions so far.
Miller said her new role has similarities to her previous one at the Centre Foundation. In both jobs, making connections and partnerships — with people, organizations — are vital. The phrase “it takes a village” applies.
Take, for example, the Military Appreciation event that was held before Veterans Day last month. To start, Miller needed to find a giant American flag. She put out calls and emails, and soon enough, Glenn O. Hawbaker reached out to help, and so did Harris Township Manager Amy Farkas, Miller said. Next, she needed help to hang the flag. Those calls were answered — along with many others — and contributed to the success of the event, which led to downtown businesses donating more than $6,700 to the Penn State Student Military Fund.
There’s been a military appreciation event for years, Herlocher said, but Miller made “a big splash of it” that made a difference.
“She’s taking what we have in place and making it better,” Herlocher said.