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Downtown Lodi Business Partnership elects new leader

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Posted: Tuesday, January 11, 2005 10:00 pm

Mary Wallace came to Downtown Lodi only a few years ago, when she left the insurance business for a Pine Street frames and collectibles shop in 2002.

Mary Wallace

Now she's running the whole show.

Wallace, the owner of Frames and Fine Things on 18 W. Pine St., was selected as the new president of the Downtown Lodi Business Partnership's Board of Directors at a meeting Tuesday night. She replaces Peter Westbrook, who recently stepped down after moving his Internet provider business to Lower Sacramento Road to escape rising rents.

She and the rest of the 12-member board will face a continuing battle as they work through city budget constraints and apathy among some merchants to market the downtown area. The partnership has been a target in the past for business owners unhappy with the annual assessment they have to pay for marketing.

Wallace doesn't expect such disagreements to go away. In fact, she believes they are healthy for the area.

"It's OK to disagree," Wallace said after the meeting on Tuesday. "Out of that often comes resolution."

Other officers selected include: Vice President Greg Soligan, owner of Valley Paints at 130 N. School St; Treasurer Nancy Byer-Hauan, of Jackson-Hewitt at 218 S. School St; and Secretary Sandy Hohn, of House of Clocks at 208 S. School St.

"We can do some really positive things," Soligan said. "We've got to keep going forward."

The partnership is a special district that collects fees from downtown businesses to go toward events and marketing in the area. It also receives funding from the city, though those numbers have dwindled in recent years with continuing budget shortages.

Funding from the city went from nearly $100,000 a year in the late 1990s to around $42,000 last year, according to board member Phil Biddle. That number is expected to dwindle this year as the city deals with a $2.9 million budget shortage.

"It's going to turn us even more so into a fundraising organization," Westbrook said during the meeting. "We'll have to be able to go out and raise money for marketing."

Wallace believes the biggest challenge to downtown comes not from the city budget, but from the lack of an economic development plan in City Hall. The city has said in the past it is in a reactive mode when it comes to recruiting businesses to the area, leaving merchants wondering how vacant stores will be filled.

The board also had five new members at its first meeting of the year. Those included: Maureen Williams, owner of MoJo's at 114 N. Sacramento St.; Roger Rehmke, owner of Lodi Beer Co. at 105 S. School St.; Steve Bria, owner of the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory at 115 S. School St.; Scott Molinari, owner of Minerva's Furniture at 21 S. Sacramento St. and Erin Smith from Scooters at 121 W. Elm St.

Four of the five new members opened their businesses during the past year. Having new faces representing the partnership could go a long way in attracting other merchants to participate in the group's marketing efforts, Wallace said.

The board's new president is fairly new to the downtown area herself. She worked more than 20 years as an insurance adjuster before deciding to give retail a try in 2002.

Though she moved to Lodi more than a decade earlier, it wasn't until she bought Frames and Fine Things that she really became an active figure in town. She also sits on the board at the Lodi Wine and Visitors Center.

"I've lived in Lodi, but I never became involved in the community," she said. "Now it's my time to pay back."

Contact Business Editor Greg Kane at gregk@lodinews.com.

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