Six years ago, real estate agent and former Woonsocket City Council member Garrett Mancieri took the helm of the Downtown Woonsocket Collaborative as its executive director and chairperson, with a goal of advancing the nonprofit’s efforts to improving and promoting the downtown area.
Now Mancieri is stepping down from the role effective in January, as the organization seeks a new director. Mancieri said recently that downtown businesses were able to adapt during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the restaurant and retail scene got a boost from new residents who relocated from larger cities for a lower cost of living. From 2015 to this year, the downtown vacancy rate dropped by nearly 20 percentage points, he said.
PBN: What has it been like for you to serve as the executive director of the Downtown Woonsocket Collaborative for the last six years?
MANCIERI: In 2015, I was asked, along with my colleague at the time Councilor Melissa Murray, to take on the leadership of the local Main Street board. It has been around since the 1980s and needed new ideas and a new vision.
Many people doubted whether we could make a comeback in a district that many had given up on. I took it on as a way to stay connected to my late mémère who instilled in me a love of Main Street. She told me stories about how life was when she was young, and we loved to ride down the street in her maroon Cadillac looking at all the buildings.
Every time I help a new business open up or expand, I think of her at the ribbon cutting and how proud she would be of all that we have accomplished over the past six years that I was fortunate to have this role.
PBN: Why did you decide it was time to step down from that position and what is next for you?
MANCIERI: With my 14 years of real estate sales and my leasing background, my main focus during my time here was to fill downtown vacancies. We started off at 50% vacancy on Main Street. Today that is down to 20% and dropping every single month. People are investing millions in our historic and beautiful buildings.
Passing the Downtown Overlay District was a huge accomplishment that has led to more businesses and more investment in decades. Main Street is now the thriving, bustling and fun place that we always wanted to see.
Therefore, I feel like it is time for the organization to go in a new direction with a new leader – someone that can work with everyone and bring new, fresh ideas to the table.
PBN: How has the downtown changed in recent history, in terms of tenancy of the properties in the area and the kinds of successful businesses operating there?
MANCIERI: We have seen exciting arts-type businesses, with an art gallery open now and a music studio on the way. It certainly is not the type of store that you would have seen 40 or 50 years ago here, but that is OK, and we can adapt to today’s new Main Street – one that people go to for shops, dining, fitness and, most important, some fun.
What makes it so interesting is that you never know what is next and what great idea someone may have to make their dream come true. We finally have convinced people that Main Street is not only a commercial district but also a place to live, which has been critical as well to filling the vacant spaces. The best kind of customer is one who lives upstairs, or down the street, that keeps coming back again and again.
PBN: Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt recently announced that a $175,000 state grant will go toward disability compliant improvements to the historic Longley Building, at 194 Main Street. How important to the downtown will it be to get that private property back into active use?
MANCIERI: The Longley Building is one of our landmark buildings in the downtown area. It is located on the busiest intersection that we have with a very high traffic count and visibility.
The city was fortunate to receive that grant and wisely chose this location to get this project moving along. It has plenty of parking and will be the main focal point of our district when completed. We anxiously await the other planned improvements to see this gem be fully revitalized and showcase the incredible beauty that we have in the downtown area.
When I travel outside of Rhode Island for the Main Street Now Conferences, I will show pictures of our buildings to people from other communities and they are so jealous of our architecture and how the buildings have so many stories on them.
PBN: What would be the best possible addition to downtown Woonsocket in an ideal scenario? What does the area need most?
MANCIERI: We have a higher education center under construction that is slated to open by April of next year, with classroom space for Community College of Rhode Island, University of Rhode Island [and] Rhode Island College [students].
CVS, Amica, AAA and Fidelity have already signed up to train new employees in the center, which will be directly in the middle of Main Street. This will be huge to bring new people to the district and increase commerce in our area.
Woonsocket is a food desert, and it would be a big win for us to have a supermarket or small grocery store in the downtown area.
Marc Larocque is a PBN staff writer. Contact him at Larocque@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter @LaRockPBN.
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