Jes McMillan: Community activist, mosaic artist and Executive Director, The Mosaic Institute

use headshotJes McMillan combined her skill and experience as a mosaic artist with her passion for community to create her career as a humanitarian artist.

 In the beginning…

While growing up in Kettering, Miamisburg, Dayton and Columbus, Ohio, Jes McMillan always “wanted to be an artist”. In elementary school, she “loved going into the art room. (It was her) favorite class”. Her talent and interest were recognized early when the teacher chose her in second grade to “paint a window of the art room for the holidays… Usually (they) only let the 6th graders paint the windows”.

How did Jes become a mosaic artist?

Jes followed her passion for art in high school. “I took every art class that was available”. She gained her first experience with handling, cutting and grinding glass when she did a fine design stained glass stepping stone project in art class. The project taught her how to cut the shapes exactly so they would fit together in the pattern with even spacing throughout.

“I did my first mosaic in high school at age 16. I got a piece of wood from the garage, 2’ tall by 4’ wide” and used glass for the pattern. Jes made a second piece which she “traded to my art teacher for a set of all the tools you need to do the glass, so then I was on my way”.

What did Jes do after high school?

After Jes graduated, she pursued industrial design. “I’ve always had a building and engineering type of mind”. She earned her Associates in Science degree in Industrial Design at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. They recognized her talent and skills with mosaic art immediately and employed her to represent the Art Institute at festivals and to teach workshops on mosaics.

While she was going to school, Jes also worked at the YMCA.  By the time she graduated from the Art Institute, she was advancing “up the ladder through the child care and I wanted to be a director”. She enrolled at Point Park University in Pittsburgh to get the necessary credits for that position. She majored in Art History and Child Development and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Design & Applied Arts.

What did Jes do when she returned to Dayton?

Pittsburgh “was a great city… I loved that experience”, but family ties brought Jes back to Dayton in 2005. Despite her experience in child care at the Pittsburgh YMCA, Jes discovered the Dayton YMCA lacked openings for child care directors. “I did try being an after-school site director, but I’d already passed that point and I didn’t want to take steps back”.

Jes secured a job as an industrial designer in Franklin, Ohio, but had the misfortunate to injure her hand. “I was dealing with a lot of models and you need your hands”. Shortly thereafter, she was laid off.

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K-12 Gallery & TEJAS

Next, Jes combined her background in art with her training in child development at K-12 Gallery & Teen Educational & Joint Adult Studio in downtown Dayton as a mosaic art class instructor. In order to supplement her income, she also managed Design Sleep, a high-end organic bedding store in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

 How did Jes start combining mosaic art and community work?

Jes created her “first community collaborative piece” while teaching mosaic art at the K-12 Gallery & TEJAS. She led others to make “huge pieces of art that were affecting the community in a really big way. So that kind of changed the course for me right away”. use community mosaic MI

For almost eight years, Jes taught and directed community art projects at the K-12 Gallery & TEJAS. In November 2013, she “parted ways with them to create my own vehicle for community work”. While she considered what that meant, she worked as a database manager for Healthy Alternative, an independent chain of health food grocery stores. In 2015 she founded a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, The Mosaic Institute of Greater Dayton, to carry out her commitment to community through its mission: To Inspire, Empower and Unify Community Through Art.

Through contacts made while volunteering at One Bistro, a nonprofit restaurant in Miamisburg, Ohio, Jes found a building with 15,000 square feet available in the same town. In September 2015, The Mosaic Institute use elem classroomopened a walk-in mosaic studio with bins of pre-cut glass sorted by color that customers could use to create “make it and take it” mosaics. The studio offered a full class schedule, private parties and other events.

Since 2015 Jes has involved The Mosaic Institute in almost 20 community mural projects, both paint and mosaic, in Miamisburg.   “I have done mosaic murals in every single elementary school in Miamisburg but one”, and that elementary school is scheduled to create one during the 2018-2019 school year. Miamisburg High School is also on the schedule. Eventually Jes “will have mosaiced with every child in” Miamisburg.

use blocking muralFor the 2017 River Blast Festival, Jes and The Mosaic Institute partnered with the City of Miamisburg to create a giant painted mosaic on 350 feet of levee wall along the Great Miami River. Jes and her Mosaic Institute team taped the giant mosaic pattern on the levee and gave each participant a “paintbrush with the right color and directed them towards the spaces… Everybody from babies to seniors got involved in that mural”. The project made the City a semifinalist for the 2017 Governor’s Award for Parks & Recreation.

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Levee Mural, City of Miamisburg, OH

During its first year, The Mosaic Institute also used their building’s big open space to hold ten art shows with music, performance art, and visual art. It was “a lot of fun”, but, due to the heating and cooling expenses, “the building ended up being just a monster”. Jes needed to relocate The Mosaic Institute.

Since The Mosaic Institute had been active in the community, Jes negotiated with the City of Miamisburg for some space to open a community art center. Her dream is to use her “skills and abilities in partnership with (the City of Miamisburg) to build a Rosewood Arts Center, a city-sustained arts program”. The City did provide some space in a community park, “but it was like starting over from square one”.

Why did Jes move The Mosaic Institute to downtown Dayton?

While Jes was wrestling with relocation, her friend, Mike Bisig, bought the building for

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Mike’s Bike Park, 1300 E. 1st Street, Dayton, OH

Mike’s Bike Park, which included extra space. Jes had spent many years as a young artist at The Front Street Building and knew it always had a waiting list for studio space. When she saw the available space in Mike’s building, she “instantly thought it was a good opportunity to rent these out to artists”.

Jes faced a choice: “do I start over in Miamisburg or do I take this new opportunity? It puts me back in the city (Dayton), which is where I want to be and eventually it could be self-sustaining”. In Miamisburg, Jes relied on income, grants and donations generated by The Mosaic Institute. Funding was always difficult. The Crane Studios Market business model predicted a more consistent cash flow. “Once I rent these out, I’ve got a commitment”.

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Consequently, she moved The Mosaic Institute to 221 Crane Street, Dayton, and “opened up Crane Studios Market to be a tenant in my own arts market”.

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Crane Studios Market, 221 Crane Street, Dayton, OH

“I started out with 13 studios. Each one (is an) individual shop where artists of different types are doing their own galleries/retail business”.  Jes priced the rent, which includes internet access, to be attractive to entrepreneurial artists testing the risk of opening a studio gallery. “Can I get customers? Can I market? Can I switch it up enough in my shop?”

Studios in Crane Studios Market

The leases require the artists to open their shops whenever Crane is open: each 1st Friday, 6 p.m. – 9 p.m., and every Saturday, Noon – 5 p.m. For those lacking the time to run a studio shop, Jes rents wall space and handles the sales of that artist’s work.

Crane opens a new show with a visiting artist every first Friday. That visiting artist returns on the second Saturday to give an artist talk from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. A free bourbon tasting is included.

“We’ve grown into an awesome team. We still have a lot to learn… I’m coming up on my first year as far as managing tenants and spaces, but it’s been great”.

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What community work is Jes doing in Dayton?

When Crane began attracting suburban residents to the first Friday artist talks, Jes realized “there was a huge disconnect” between the suburbs and the art activity in the city. Many people are unaware that East Dayton contains the highest concentration of artists in Dayton. In order to raise awareness, Jes developed the East Dayton Arts District.

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1st Street overpass, Dayton, OH

Her immediate goal is to brand the area and “create some unity with the artists and the arts here and just try to change the face of the East side. In a collaborative setting, art has the power to transcend the barriers of division in every way”.

Her first steps to brand the district involved setting up the website and painting the First Street overpass to be a gateway to the area. The next step will require attending neighborhood association meetings in the district to get them on board. “I think the more people that we get on board, the easier it will be for us to build the district”.

Additionally, Jes is spearheading creation of a memorial for victims of the opioid epidemic, The Wall of Perseverance. Her speech at the 2018 UpDayton Summit earned a grant for seed money for the project. The award also gave her “a team of all these professional people who do all these awesome things”.

The project will invite people to write the name of a loved one lost to opioids on the back of a tile and incorporate it into the 3-D memorial. Jes envisions it as a way “to physically do something to help rebuild broken lives”. We will “make Dayton the Capitol of Healing”.

Jes’ reflections:

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Sidewalk mosaic, Miamisburg, OH

The most difficult thing Jes does now is “managing the tenants, the different artistic personalities. I’m just trying to gather the team; that is the challenge… What an adventure! If you asked me two years ago, would I ever be a landlord to 13 people, no way that I would’ve said ‘yes’ to that”.

Jes would like to get back to doing her own mosaic work. “I haven’t had a show yet and I really would really like to”. She has been doing mosaics for 20 years now and says, “I really enjoy it, so getting back to that would be great.”

Jes’ career observations: 

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Sidewalk mosaic, Miamisburg, OH
  • Explore experiences to find out what it is that matches with you as a person
  • Remember to meet people, network and communicate in order to make projects come alive
  • Build leadership experience by getting people active and involved in projects that make a difference
  • Infuse humanitarian acts, caring and giving, into your career regardless of what you do, whether you’re doing a job you love or not
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Sidewalk mosaic, Miamisburg, OH

“I’ve definitely hit this point with opening Cranes and The Mosaic Institute here that I have this amazing team of professional creative people here with me that are helping me do everything with the community work; they’re very supportive. Team Crane and Team Mosaic are all kind of merging together… a lot of us really care and are invested and excited about making a difference… This is my 20th year as a mosaic artist and almost all of my career out of college has been dedicated to community”.

“Those who can have the responsibility to”.

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Mural in Miamisburg, OH

You can find more information about Jes at:

City of Miamisburg levee painting (WDTN.com, December 14, 2017)

Art projects in Miamisburg with The Mosaic Institute (Dayton Daily News, August 26, 2016)

Meet 2018 Artfest Featured Artist Jes McMillan (Dayton Local.com, August 22, 2018)

Dayton Wall of Perseverance to Memorialize Opioid Epidemic Victims with Art (WYSO, May 28, 2018)

Katrina Kittle: Author, Teacher, Speakeru

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Katrina Kittle uses her passion for telling stories, training in writing and teaching, and experiences in a variety of jobs to create a career path which includes published novels, life coaching classes and teaching in secondary and college institutions. No matter what she is doing, writing is always her highest priority.

In the beginning…

“I always wrote stories, but I never thought about being a writer. I always thought I would be in theater. A lot of my childhood memories are of directing and orchestrating these reenactments of stories I liked or stories I’d written”.

Katrina continued on that path as a theater major during her first three years at Ohio University. “I just wanted to be in stories”. The Theater degree required additional Liberal Arts courses and Katrina discovered she especially enjoyed studying literature. “I loved reading and writing about stories”. Her enthusiasm fueled her performance and she was asked to join the English Honors Tutorial program despite being a theater major.

Her guidance counselor suggested Katrina also take the Education courses required for a teaching certificate. Graduating with a marketable skill appealed, and she graduated in 1990 with two degrees – a Bachelor of Arts in English with a Theater minor, and a Bachelor of Science in Education.

What did Katrina do after she graduated from college?

Centerville High School, Centerville, Ohio, hired Katrina to teach English, Advanced Placement British Literature, and theater. While there, Katrina had the inspiration for her first novel, Traveling Light. “I had never taken creative writing classes…but I think it was really good training reading all those really great works”.

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Centerville High School

Katrina’s heavy workload of preparing, teaching and grading made writing a novel difficult. Books on creative writing admonish aspiring writers to write every day, but Katrina knew, “I can’t write every day. I have to grade these papers, and I have to plan this class, and I have to read Beowulf again”.

Nonetheless, Katrina’s story idea “was kind of tugging on me like a little kid pulling on your sleeve”. In response, she set a schedule. “I decided that my best and most creative time was early in the morning”. Since she couldn’t manage writing every day, “I told myself I could give myself an hour every Saturday morning. And very quickly, I realized I could squeeze in two hours”. She maintained that schedule through vacations and holidays. As a result, “I wrote the whole first draft of that novel in these little two-hour increments over the course” of a year.

The first draft was just the beginning, however. It was too long, about too many things and “I didn’t know whose story it was”. To learn the craft of fiction writing, Katrina took courses, attended the Antioch Writers Workshop (AWW) in Dayton, Ohio, and read books on creative writing. Having a first draft made all the difference. “Everything single thing you learn, you can then apply it to something that actually exists”.

What did Katrina do after she left teaching?

books-2547179_1280Katrina’s mentor at Centerville high school recognized teaching wasn’t her calling. He advised, “If you’re thinking of leaving, don’t stay longer than five years or you’ll just get stuck”. Katrina took his advice and left after five years. “I knew I really wanted to write and I knew that this was not a match for the writing life”.

Thereafter, Katrina worked in a vet clinic for a huge pay cut, but “I was rich in time and I didn’t have to take anything home to grade”. Next, she started cleaning houses, finding her clients by word of mouth. Cleaning houses was satisfying, because, unlike teaching or writing, the finished product was tangible.  Cleaning also facilitated her creativity. “All my ideas come to me when I’m doing mindless stuff with my hands; cleaning houses was perfect”.

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Town Hall Theatre

Cleaning, however, was “hard physical work”. After two or three years, she gradually switched to directing shows for the Town Hall Theatre in Centerville/Washington Township, Ohio. The pay was good enough to enable her to cut back on her cleaning schedule. Eventually, Katrina quit cleaning houses entirely, and worked as the Town Hall Theatre Education Director and in case management support at the AIDS Foundation Miami Valley, Dayton, Ohio (now Equitas).

How did Katrina get her first book published?

By 1998, Katrina had worked on her book for six years and was ready to pursue publication. “I felt I had polished it, lots of people had read it, it had been heavily revised, and I had taken it as far as I knew how to. I felt like I was ready to hear some opinions of people in the business”.

Katrina mailed a personalized query letter with a self-addressed stamped envelope to 27 agents. All 27 agents rejected the book, often with a form rejection. “Sometimes they wouldn’t even use their own letterhead. They would just handwrite on your letter, ‘Not for us. Sorry. Good luck’”. Two did ask to see the first 50 pages, and one read the entire manuscript and gave feedback. Receiving that feedback “felt like a really good, hopeful rejection”.

During that process, she attended the Antioch Writers Workshop as an AWW work fellow, exchanging work for a reduction in tuition. Her tasks included driving speakers to the airport. Diana Baroni, from Warner Books (now Grand Central Publishing), was AWW’s guest editor that year. She attended the final evening program and heard Katrina read an excerpt from her book.

The next morning, Katrina was scheduled to drive Diana to the airport at 5:30am, but a bad thunderstorm caused power outages during the night. Katrina’s alarm didn’t go off. She happened to wake up at 5:15 a.m., brushed her teeth, jammed a ball cap over her hair, jumped in her car, and arrived on time.

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Traveling Light by Katrina Kittle; originally published by Warner Books, 2000

In the car, Diana immediately said, “’I really like what you read last night. Is that book finished?’”  During the rest of the drive, Diana peppered Katrina with questions. “I thought she was just being polite”. But before she departed, Diana asked Katrina to send her the manuscript.

Several months later, Diana announced that Warner wanted to buy the book. With a book deal in hand, Katrina quickly found an agent. The agent negotiated a contract for two books and Warner Books published Traveling Light in 2000.

What did Katrina next?

Katrina had two ideas for her second book. One dealt with animal communication and addiction; the other involved child abuse. Warner Books said, “We don’t want to follow a book about AIDS with a book about child abuse; we need something… not quite so dark and controversial”.

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Two Truths and a Lie by Katrina Kittle; originally published by Warner Books, 2001

Nonetheless, Katrina felt most passionate about the child abuse book. “Totally naïve, I thought, ‘If they read it, they’ll understand it’s not that dark; it’s actually hopeful’”. Accordingly, she spent a year under contract writing The Kindness of Strangers. Once it was finished, Warner still didn’t want it.

Then, under the gun, Katrina wrote the book about animal communication and addiction, Two Truths and a Lie, which Warner published in 2001.

Following publication of Two Truths, Diana, said, “You really belong at a different publishing house. It’s not so shocking that they won’t let me publish Kindness, as it is that they ever let me publish Traveling Light”. As a result, Katrina needed a new publisher.

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The Kindness of Strangers by Katrina Kittle; published by HarperCollins, 2006

Concurrently, due to business issues, Katrina began searching for a new agent. Diana assisted by sending the Kindness manuscript to three different agents with a note that said, “This isn’t for our house, but I really love this book; this book needs a home”. All three showed interest and Katrina chose one. Her new agent placed Kindness with HarperCollins Publishers. Harper published The Kindness of Strangers in 2006 and it won the Great Lakes Book Award for Fiction.

Katrina struggled with her next book, The Blessings of the Animals, as deadlines approached. Her lengthy draft had too many plot lines. After reading the first 100 pages, her agent said, “The daughter’s story is very compelling and interesting, but she needs her own book”. In response, Katrina retained the daughter as a character, but streamlined the storyline by deleting a lot of her scenes and dialogue.

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The Blessings of the Animals by Katrina Kittle; published by HarperCollins, 2010

HarperCollins published The Blessings of the Animals in 2010.

When Katrina’s first two books went out of print, her agent helped her revert the rights into her own name. HarperCollins picked them up and rereleased them. Now Katrina’s four novels “look like they belong together”.

Katrina used the deleted material from Blessings to write Reasons to Be Happy. Sourcebooks published it as a Tween (Middle Grade) novel in 2011. When Katrina tried to follow it with a Young Adult book, she discovered the Young Adult market is quite competitive. “People think writing a children’s book will be easier, but it’s not”.

What else was Katrina doing during this period?

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The Miami Valley School

After the publication of Traveling Light, Katrina decided it was time to stop freelancing at a variety of jobs. Too often she overloaded herself with part-time work and didn’t have time to write. She needed one steady job to maintain her writing routine. Consequently, she returned to teaching, this time in middle school at The Miami Valley School, Dayton, Ohio. Since “they take it out of you while you’re here, but then none of it goes home with you”, the position was less demanding than teaching high school.

Concurrently, Katrina got her Masters in Fine Arts in Writing (MFA) from Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky. Spalding offered a low residency program so she could teach fulltime. “I think it improved me as a writer; improved me as a teacher”. Subsequently, the MFA also enabled her to land adjunct teaching positions at Wright State University and Sinclair Community College in Dayton.

While Katrina was teaching, HarperCollins published Kindness of Strangers. Publication required promotional activities. At times “I’d be doing a radio show in a conference room at school and then, the minute it ends, I’m going back to my classroom where some other teacher was covering for me”.

What did Katrina do after she left teaching?

Katrina felt torn between the publishing obligations and her teaching responsibilities. “I was in danger of not doing either of these jobs very well”. In 2008 Katrina decided to take the risk of writing full-time. By then she was divorced and on her own, which gave her the freedom to experiment. “If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work and I’ll find some other job.”.

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Reasons to Be Happy by Katrina Kittle; published by Sourcebooks, 2011

Katrina traveled during her “Year of the Gypsy”, house sitting or pet sitting for friends around the country. During that year, she finished Blessings of the Animals and wrote Reasons to be Happy. At the end, she returned to Dayton and bought her house. Then things changed. “I got my first round of cancer”.

What was the impact of Katrina’s first bout with cancer?

Fighting breast cancer made writing fulltime difficult. Although Katrina had health insurance, her deductible quickly depleted her savings. In order to rebuild, she found a part-time job at the Miami Valley Fair Housing Center, Dayton, Ohio, (MVFHC) writing inspection reports.

Katrina also began developing her own freelance gigs. She offered creative writing classes through Word’s Worth Writing Center, Dayton, Ohio. Positive feedback from her speech at LexisNexis in 2014, encouraged her to create her class, Leap and the Net Will Appear, which she presented in different venues around Dayton. An encore speech at LexisNexis in 2016 used material from Reasons to Be Happy. Subsequently, she created another class focused on happiness.

Once again, as Katrina expanded her freelance activities, she had less writing time.  By 2016 Katrina had rebuilt her savings and was “feeling a little spread too thin”. She left

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Miami Valley Fair Housing Center

MVFHC so she could “get back to the ideal writing day”. Then she learned the breast cancer was back.

What happened following Katrina’s second bout with cancer?

Again, cancer was expensive. As Katrina recovered from surgery, she worked to rebuild her savings. She taught creative writing for Word’s Worth, presented the Happy class around the region, and offered her Leap class to a variety of audiences.

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The University of Dayton

What’s next?

Recently Katrina decided the “constant hustle of self-employment” was exhausting and was diminishing her writing time. She will continue to offer select writing courses for Word’s Worth, including The Writer’s 12-step Program: Write Your Novel in a Year, which begins September 11, 2018. In Fall 2018, she will also join the University of Dayton English Department to teach creative writing. This will allow her to teach the subject she loves, interact with respected colleagues, and maintain a reliable writing schedule.

Katrina’s observations:

  • First, make the writing exist. Once you make it exist, then it’s much easier to make it better.
  • Big chunks of time aren’t going to magically appear. Just start putting words on the page.
  • Give yourself your best, most creative time. You’ll get the other stuff done regardless.
  • Garner experiences and connect with people. If you just sit in a room and write, eventually you will have nothing to write about.
  • Stay open to other means of income. It’s all material.
  • Writing is not the way to get rich or famous. If your goal is to be rich, there are better ways to do it that are faster. Very few creative writers make a living just writing.

“Lots has happened in my personal life since 2011. I got cancer twice; my mom got dementia; my sister and I were completely in charge of finding (my parents) a home, moving them, getting their house ready for sale and selling their house; and also, I combined my household with (my partner) Jason and sold my own house…I’m really proud of the fact that I continued writing during all of that”.

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Joey, Katrina’s cat, regularly oversees her writing

Books by Katrina Kittle:

  • Traveling Light, originally published by Warner Books, 2000
  • Two Truths and a Lie, originally published by Warner Books, 2001
  • Kindness of Strangers, published by HarperCollins, 2006
  • Blessings of the Animals, published by HarperCollins, 2010
  • Reasons to Be Happy, published by Sourcebooks, 2011

Lisa Grigsby: Owner, Planned2Give; Executive Director, FilmDayton; and Curator, Dayton Most Metro

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Lisa Grigsby used her experience in the restaurant business to succeed in the comedy club world. She leveraged that experience to launch an event planning business, market Dayton’s film opportunities, and publicize community events.

In the beginning…

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Lisa at a tap recital, age 4

When Lisa Grigsby was growing up around Washington, DC, she thought she was going to be a banker, “because I always liked playing with cash registers and money”. Her interest in finance continued after her family moved to Chicago. “My junior and senior years in high school, I had an accounting class that I absolutely adored”. She also served as her high school football team’s statistician. Working with numbers felt right to her, and she began college at the University of Oklahoma as an Accounting major.

Lisa chose the University of Oklahoma for two reasons: it had a football team and nice dorms.  Although Oklahoma was “kind of culture shock”, she found a place with the football team as a trainer doing stats and other tasks. “I was the first woman team trainer in the Big Eight at the time…and my coach was not real pleased”. After several days of sending her “through (the dressing room) thinking it would rattle me”, he realized she was unflappable. She relished the work and says, “I got to go to some great bowl games”.

At the same time, Lisa discovered that accounting bored her. She stayed in business, however, and earned her degree in Marketing.

What did Lisa do after she graduated from college?

After graduation, Lisa returned to Chicago and got a job as a lingerie buyer for a department store. The job was more inventory management than marketing and lacked challenge. “I would dread getting up in the morning and going to work”. She lasted for nine months and quit.

While she considered her next steps, Lisa got a waitressing job. To her surprise, she recognized “that I really loved that”.

How did waitressing influence Lisa’s career path?

Lisa knew she wanted to do more than wait tables. Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises (LEYE) was opening a Shaw’s Crab House in a Chicago suburb, and Lisa applied for a job.

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Shaw’s Crab House, Schaumburg, Ill; photo by Midwestern Adventures, February 11, 2013 at Midwestern Adventures

When she interviewed with the general manager, she noticed a picture of Phillips Crab House on the wall. She was familiar with Phillips from summer vacations and commented on the photo. After chatting for 30 minutes, the general manager created a plan to prepare Lisa for management by exposing her to all aspects of the restaurant. She waitressed, worked the bar, and finally spent time in the kitchen, so she would be able to perform any task.

One day a man sat down at one of her tables and pulled out a cigarette. In the 1980s, smoking was still permitted in restaurants. Lisa immediately pulled out her lighter and lit his cigarette. He said, “I really love your attitude,” and handed her a $100 bill. Then he introduced himself. He was Rich Melman, one of the LEYE owners and, thereafter, one of Lisa’s mentors.

Lisa had additional mentors who taught her the restaurant business, but eventually she was ready to move beyond Shaw’s. She found a manager’s spot in different restaurant.

How did football push Lisa into the comedy club business?

Lisa wanted to see the University of Oklahoma play in the Orange Bowl, but, since she was no longer with the team, she needed a second job to afford the trip. She started telemarketing for a comedy club, The Funny Bone Comedy Club and Restaurant in Chicago. She worked from 10am to 2pm, calling people to say, “You just won Yuck for a Buck!” She got paid $0.15 per person who actually attended the show. After 2pm, she went to her restaurant job.

When Lisa decided that it was time to leave her restaurant job, she told the Funny Bone’s manager she needed a job and he offered her one. At that time, Lisa had never been to a comedy show, so she didn’t know what to expect. The manager said, “It’s got to be like running a restaurant… you just help seat people”.

In the 1980s comedy clubs were hot. The Funny Bone was located inside a hotel. The club handled ticket sales, the door and the talent, and the hotel ran the restaurant and bar. The manager was a comic.

After observing people often tipped her in order to sit up front, Lisa convinced the manager to offer VIP seating for $5.00 and pay her $1.00 for each one.  She also noticed the restaurant servers weren’t very attentive, so she met with the hotel’s food and beverage manager to let him know, “you’re missing sales and you’re leaving money on the table”. Each suggestion made her aware of the difference between the manager’s artistic brain and her business brain.

How did Lisa get started opening comedy clubs?

The Funny Bone’s corporate office noticed, “You guys are making a lot more money than you’ve ever made”. Consequently, the corporation’s representative came to visit. When he told Lisa they wanted to open another club, Lisa asked about their business and marketing plans. He said, “You’ve got a lot of questions; you want to do this?” He wrote Lisa a check for $50,000 and said, “Here’s your seed money; go find a place in Atlanta.”

Use FB signLisa identified the factors which helped the Chicago club draw an audience: the nearby presence of a TGI Fridays and close proximity to apartment complexes. She instructed a commercial realtor in Atlanta, “Find a spot that’s within a quarter mile of a TGI Fridays and it needs to be within a quarter mile of a highway”. The Atlanta club was successful and “I ended up opening 26 clubs around the country”.

Each time Lisa opened a new club, taking it from concept to operation, she chose the décor, contracted with vendors, hired staff and planned scheduling. She quickly “learned to take on more and more and not bother” the general office. Some clubs already had a manager, some wanted her to find a manager, and some said, “We’ve got this guy who’s not quite ready; see if you can get him in shape”.

Experience taught her to think quickly on her feet. “You have a show and you have a crowd full of people. The show starts at 8 o’clock and it’s 7 o’clock. (The limo company tells you the main act’s plane) is not going to land for another hour… all right what am I going to do?”

From football teams to comedy clubs, Lisa was used to working in male environments. “In the comedy club world, 90-95% comics are men” and it was her job to shepherd the them around town, including bars and strip clubs. “I had to take them to the radio in the morning… to promote the club…you’d knock on the door, they’d be hungover from being out drinking…I’d throw water on their face, get your clothes on!” “I just got used to working in that world”.

When did Lisa come to Dayton?

In 1991 Lisa had been working in comedy clubs for five years. She was in Covington, Kentucky teaching a new Funny Bone franchisee how to run the club, when she got a call seeking her recommendations for a manager for a comedy club in Dayton. Lisa asked, “Is it Wiley’s or Jokers?” The caller didn’t want to disclose that information, but Lisa pointed out, “Jokers has a full restaurant and bar and Wiley doesn’t, so they’re different skill sets”. She agreed to meet and signed a nondisclosure agreement in order to discuss the question further.

Jokers logoThe club in question was Jokers Comedy Cafe. Mike Bowling, creator of the Pound Puppy stuffed animals, had opened the club in 1985 and “had never made a penny”. Lisa agreed to come to Dayton for 90 days. “We’ll turn the club around and get the numbers all in line, then we’ll find a manager”. After about 60 days, Lisa reported the club’s numbers looked good and recommended they hire a manager. Instead, Bowling offered her the job for a year. Lisa declined, because “Dayton was probably the smallest city I’d been in” and she knew nothing about it.  “When I came here for 90 days, all I did was work that club”.

Bowling persisted. “At the time I had an apartment still in Cleveland, my winter clothes all in storage in St. Louis, expired plates on my car from Georgia and an expired driver’s license from Illinois, because all I was doing was going around from club to club”. Lisa decided that maybe it was time to settle in one place, “so I named what I thought was an outrageous amount of money and they said okay”. She agreed to stay for a year.

What led Lisa to work at Wiley’s Comedy Joint?

In 1992 Bowling sold the business to Tim Mehlman, a Cincinnati-based purchaser who had never owned a club. Lisa offered to stay for 90 days to teach him the business, and he agreed, but thereafter showed little interest. Consequently, Lisa continued to run the club. “At that point, I’d just gotten lazy…this is easy. I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing”.

In 1993 all the paychecks bounced twice and Lisa handed in her notice. She agreed to stay on the condition that Mehlman remove himself as an authorized signer on the checking account, “so he couldn’t drain the club’s profits out of the account”. They continued to have disagreements, however, and a month later, Mehlman fired her without cause.

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Wiley’s Comedy Joint, 101 Pine St, Dayton, OH 45402

Lisa immediately called Dan “Wiley” Lafferty of Wiley’s Comedy Joint, the other comedy club in Dayton. Over lunch, she offered to work for him for $100/week. “Until I figure out what my next step is… I got time on my hands and nothing to do”. When they went back to the club, Wiley interrupted their conversation to help move an ice machine. In the process, he cut his finger badly enough for a trip to the hospital, leaving Lisa alone at the club. In the course of that afternoon, she accepted deliveries, answered the phone and made reservations. “So I ended up working for Wiley’s”.

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Wiley’s Comedy Joint – June 15, 2018

Since Lisa didn’t have a noncompete agreement with Jokers, she was free to call the agents handling the big name acts she’d booked at Jokers. She told them that if Jokers “doesn’t pay the deposit on this act, call me. I’ll honor that date at the club across town”. Three days later, the calls started coming in.

Gradually Lisa convinced Wiley to include urban comedy, which hadn’t been part of the repertoire. They “bring in a different crowd which means, hey, I have a larger audience to pull from”.

How did Lisa become the owner of Jokers Comedy Cafe?

In 1995 Mehlman defaulted on his balloon note, and Mike Bowling suddenly owned Jokers again.  He convinced Lisa to return to help him understand the club’s situation. Use Jokers RockAtell PromoThey learned that Mehlman hadn’t paid the sales tax, as well as owing numerous vendors. Lisa determined that Jokers owed around $65,000 in back sales taxes and even more to unpaid vendors. Bowling agreed that she would run Jokers for one year and at the end of the year, she would buy the business for the remaining amount of debt. A year later, Jokers was hers. Eventually, she bought the building, too.

In 1998 Lisa got involved in the Dayton community. It was summer and hot when a young woman came in to apply for a job wearing short shorts and a cropped top. When Lisa offered her something to drink, she asked for a beer. Lisa didn’t hire her. “That night it just kept bothering me. Why doesn’t she know any better? Who’s going to tell her?” The next day, Lisa searched for programs to train people for job readiness, and found a new program, Clothes That Work. She was their second volunteer.

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Clothes That Work Luncheon 2011 – Doris Ponitz, Lisa, Ginny Strausburg, Sue Zickefoose

Gradually Lisa realized that she liked Dayton. “You can do something in Dayton, have an idea, make it happen, watch it succeed and it doesn’t matter how deep your pockets are, because people here care and they will connect.”

When a prominent Dayton community leader, Doris Ponitz, suggested Lisa go through the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce’s yearlong Leadership Dayton program, Lisa balked. As a small business owner, it was expensive. She discovered, however, “it was a great eye opener to what Dayton has to offer, because I came here not really getting out of my little bubble, and I just worked in the club.” She gained an additional benefit. “It also made me have to trust my staff a little more, because I’d be away for a whole day, so they got to grow… That was a big growth experience for me”.

In the ten years Lisa owned Jokers, she successfully operated in an essentially male-dominated business, expanding the club’s offerings with specialty shows, open-mike nights and corporate events. She also developed a reputation for nurturing rising young comedians. (Dayton Daily News, August 13, 2006)

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Funny Bone Comedy Club & Restaurant Dayton at The Greene, Beavercreek, Ohio

In 2006 a tornado blew down the Jokers marquee and Miami Township wouldn’t allow Lisa to rebuild it. At the same time, The Funny Bone was about to open a 325-seat club at a new shopping and entertainment complex, The Greene. Lisa doubted Dayton was big enough for three comedy clubs, and she negotiated a merger of Jokers into the Funny Bone chain which included all of the Jokers staff. “I knew that this will either be great or a colossal failure, so I had a 6-month contract with them. I made it 9 months before they fired me”. Lisa fired an act she thought was “creepy and unethical”, but corporate management said, “you don’t run your own club anymore; this is our decision”.

What did Lisa do after she left the comedy business?

As Lisa was figuring out her next steps, she did some contract work for the Miami Valley Restaurant Association, Culture Works, the Aids Resource Center (ARC, now Equitas) and the Humane Society of Greater Dayton. ARC asked her several times to be their fulltime events planner. Once they negotiated a provision that Lisa could work her own hours (no mornings), Lisa agreed.

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Lisa at the Dayton Art Institute’s Art Ball

Lisa loved the challenge of staging events for ARC in unusual venues, such as the Roundhouse at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds. “It doesn’t have much electrical. It doesn’t have bathrooms, so it was a challenge to figure out how to make it work, how to put it together”. She was used to working frugally and finding ways to bring events in below budget added to the challenge.

By 2014 the ARC had become more “corporate” as the organization expanded in both scope and geographical reach, eventually rebranding itself as Equitas Health. “It wasn’t where I wanted to be anymore. It had become too many layers of corporate for the entrepreneur in me”.

What did Lisa do next?

In 2008, sponsored by the Southwestern Ohio Council for Higher Education, Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce and some major corporations, Richard Florida came to Dayton to kick off DaytonCREATE, a yearlong effort to inventory the community’s assets and to assist the community with developing some practical ideas to persuade talented youth to stay in Dayton. (Dayton Daily News, April 6, 2008)  Lisa participated as a Catalyst (volunteer).

During the process, DaytonCREATE founded FilmDayton as a film festival and identified the need for a community calendar. Dayton Most Metro, a downtown message board, became the source for event information and positive news and reviews. Lisa got involved in both.

When Lisa left the Aids Resource Center in 2014, FilmDayton was out of money. Lisa volunteered to work for the summer to get it on firm ground.  Since then, she has continued as the Executive Director.

Previously, Dayton had partnered with Columbus and Cincinnati to petition the State of Ohio to adopt a tax incentive to foster a film industry in Ohio. The State created the Ohio Motion Picture Tax Credit (OMPTC), but it didn’t help Dayton much, because most movies were made in Cincinnati and Cleveland. In 2016 the Board of Trustees of FilmDayton decided to shift from a film festival to a film commission to market the area as a film production location. After Lisa earned her official certification as a film commissioner, FilmDayton relaunched as a film commission in April 2016.

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Premiere of The Way with Lisa, Martin Sheen, Emilio Estevez, Ron Rollins, Karri O’Reilly, Shaunn Baker and Eva Buttacavoli

As the film commissioner, Lisa reaches out to movie directors to encourage them to film in Dayton. “In a perfect world, you fly them in and get a copy of the script and go okay here’s what your script would look like in our town. (Except) FilmDayton doesn’t have any money, so that’s really hard to do”. Lisa works with Film Cincinnati to encourage producers to employ people from Dayton and promote Dayton as a scene location. For example, Miles Ahead, a biopic about Miles Davis, was based in Cincinnati, but the director filmed scenes at the Refraze Recording Studios in Kettering and the Montgomery County jail.

In order to demonstrate the economic impact, Lisa persuaded “a couple of the County Commissioners to come do a (movie) set tour, so they could see what goes into the business of film,” including the cast of 12 or 15, around 100 extras, a crew of 75, the food, the parking, etc. Consequently, the County awarded FilmDayton a small contract to expand its work.

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Lisa pouring beer for Dayton Most Metro

In addition, Lisa developed Dayton Most Metro into an online magazine covering a variety of topics such as such as Arts & Entertainment, Dayton Music, Dayton Theatre, Active Living and Community. Dayton Dining is her favorite.

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Dayton Dining Facebook page

She started Dayton Dining as a newsletter to publicize Dayton restaurants and eventually added it to Dayton Most Metro. “I think I still have the heart of a restaurateur and I know how hard it was when you’re in the day-to-day”. Restaurant owners may intend to work on marketing, but then “the dishwasher didn’t show”.

Also in May 2014, Lisa “decided to take the summer to put together a business plan to launch Planned2Give”, an event planning business she created with Jeff Jackson. Before they could finalize the plan, however, Jeff started getting calls. Many nonprofits recognized it was cheaper to hire Planned2Give than to keep an event planner on staff. With Anthony Bourdain

What is Lisa doing now?

Currently Lisa works part-time as the Executive Director of FilmDayton and runs Planned2Give with Jeff.  She also manages Dayton Most Metro as a volunteer. It gives “me all these things to work on and I can work on all of them autonomously when I need to… Keeps me from doing the same old, same old”.

Lisa’s observations:

  • Take more chances
  • Figure out what success looks like for you, not for someone else
  • Meet people for the fun of it; don’t always have an ulterior motive
  • Don’t bitch; find a way to make it better
  • Get out of your comfort zone
  • Explore; there’s tons to do
  • Get involved
  • If what you want doesn’t exist, get out and start it
  • Find partners, trust them and don’t micromanage them
  • “Sometimes you have to do things just because, and not because it’s going to benefit you at that moment. You’re just building goodwill somewhere along the line”.

“The overriding thing to my whole life is I don’t panic…things are just going to happen as they’re supposed to. Or maybe they’re not the plan I had, but nobody knew that plan and however it comes out, it comes out…I never knew what comedy club I was going to open. I never had a plan to buy a comedy club. My fall back is always that I can still waitress… that gives you a lot of freedom. The worst that’s going to happen is they’ll fire me”.

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YWCA Dayton Women of Influence class of 2016

Lisa Wagner, Executive Director, Levitt Pavilion Dayton

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In the beginning…

Lisa Wagner enjoyed her childhood with her extended family in Allentown, Pa. “I spent my leisure time with my cousins and they were like siblings”. She had freedom to play and roam the city, but “there was a lot of accountability. I couldn’t get away with anything”.

Everything changed at the end of 7th grade when Lisa’s nuclear family moved away to Dayton so her father could take a job with NCR. Lisa played volleyball, basketball and softball in 8th grade, but when she started high school, “I became intimidated about not fitting in”. Nonetheless, “I seemed to be able to fluidly move between all these sub classes of The Breakfast Club”.

What did Lisa do after high school?

Lisa wanted to go to Ohio Northern University to study law, but her father insisted she attend Miami University in Oxford, Ohio to major in business. Lisa had other ideas. “I hated business and wanted to teach secondary math and went into the education department”.

When Lisa’s parents subsequently divorced, Lisa needed financing for her education. At that time, she had a summer job with Key Bank and they offered her a full-time job in loan operations. The offer included tuition reimbursement, enabling Lisa to continue part-time education classes at Wright State University. Time, however, became an obstacle. “I kept getting promoted and taking on more responsibility at the bank and I didn’t know how to do both”.

Did Lisa stay in banking?

In 1989 Key Bank moved its loan operations to Cleveland. They offered to move her, too, but Lisa declined, because she and her husband decided to stay in Dayton to raise their children.

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Christopher’s Restaurant & Catering, Kettering, Ohio

While Lisa was at home with her two children, a church friend opened Christopher’s Restaurant & Catering. As the catering portion expanded, he asked Lisa to join him. Since extra money was attractive, Lisa agreed help with that portion of the business.

In order to ensure she could fulfill her arrangements with catering customers, Lisa enrolled in the culinary arts program at Sinclair Community College. “I would sell it and then I would cook it. I’d load it up in the car; I’d go out and we’d serve it and then bring it all back and we’d clean it up”.

Eventually, Christopher’s catering got so busy, Lisa didn’t have time for school. “Christopher’s was nights and weekends and that’s when the classes were”.

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Lisa learned the catering business requires a proactive mindset. “You always have to be anticipating worst case scenarios” in order to provide solutions on the spot. “I always had to know where the nearest grocery store was in case I forgot something”.

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Did Lisa stay in catering?

After ten years of catering, “my body really started to break down, so I took a break”. In 2002, however, “the economy caught up to our family in a real way”. It was time to go back to work.

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Benjamin and Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center, Dayton, Ohio

In 2003 the Schuster Performing Arts Center was under construction. Lisa saw a posting for a job there in event operations. She applied, and due to her catering experience, was hired by the Victoria Theater Association (VTA), which owns and operates the Schuster Center.

How did Lisa’s life change as she settled in with VTA?

In addition to its theaters, the Schuster includes a full service restaurant and bar, Citilites. Prior to the 2003 opening, “I was very involved in hiring all the service staff – Citilites and the catering staff”.

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Citilites Restaurant at the Schuster Performing Arts Center, Dayton, Ohio

Once the Schuster Center opened, Lisa became “the execution element”, managing all the details for events held onsite, including the flow, layout and setup, decoration, service style, etc. “I went from kind of working very part-time to working almost 70 hours a week. And we did not have a kitchen in that building until September of 2003 and we probably did close to $1,000,000 worth of catering prior to that”.

How did Lisa move from event operations to ticketing?

VTA surprised Lisa when they asked her to become the Director of their ticketing operation, Ticket Center Stage, and address the issues between Ticket Center Stage and its licensees, Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, Dayton Opera, Dayton Ballet, and Human Race Theatre Company.

Lisa’s reaction was, “What? I’ve never sold a ticket in my life!” The VTA assured her, “you’re really good with customers and you manage people really well”.

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Schuster Performing Arts Center Box Office

Nonetheless, she had a steep learning curve. “I spent probably the first month shadowing ticket agents. I sat in the box offices and listened and then I got on the phone and learned how to sell tickets over the phone”.

Lisa observed that the culture within the department did not promote collaboration and needed to change. In order to do that, “I spent a lot of time working on team building; I spent a lot of time asking for input. No matter what level you were within this little organization, I valued what they had to say. I spent a lot of time in the trenches with them”.

As Lisa worked to purge the negative dynamic, she also quickly identified two superstars. These two young woman “were very out of the box thinkers”, willing to approach problems from fresh angles. Working with them led to some of Lisa’s favorite moments: “seeing people that I have developed blossom and really enjoy their success”.

How did Lisa’s responsibilities grow?

In 2009 the CEO and President of the VTA, Dione Kennedy left to head another organization. During the subsequent management reorganization, the interim CEO and the new CEO and President of the VTA, Ken Neufeld, decided it made sense to have a person with culinary experience oversee the food and beverage team. Consequently, VTA created the Vice President of Ticketing and Hospitality position, and asked Lisa to fill it. There is no equivalent position across the country, because in other preforming arts centers “the food and beverage team is not an internal team”.

Lisa and VTA leadership believed the food and beverage operation was a brand connection, making quality control imperative. Regardless of whether catering is provided internally or by outsiders, if it is botched up, “people see it as a reflection of your venue”.

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Schuster Performing Arts Center

Periodically, Lisa asked her boss, Ken Neufeld, President and CEO, for additional challenges. As a result, he eventually added the audience services experience team to her portfolio. Managing that team fit into her hospitality focus, since the team manages the lobbies during a show, supervises the volunteer ushers, and solves any customer problems which arise before a show begins. Lisa led the team to give “the very best experience to the patron from the moment they walked in the door. And that was fun”.

How did Lisa grow into her career?

Lisa met with Ken Neufeld on a regular basis for wide-ranging conversations. “I was allowed to ask anything about the organization, the Board, anything”. Additionally, Ken encouraged her to consider further education. First, Lisa enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania – Executive Program for Arts and Culture Strategy, which featured virtual programs on strategic leadership, finance, fundraising, governance, and marketing.

In 2015, Lisa participated in the National Arts Strategies Senior Management Institute.  One of the Institute sessions was a thought-provoking career visioning process, which explored, “This is what I do now. Is this what I’m passionate about? What would I want to do?”

Lisa realized that “being connected to impact was really important to me”, but that much of what she was currently doing was more operational and “one off from the impact”.

Why did Lisa leave the Victoria Theatre Association for the Levitt Pavilion Dayton?

Lisa loved working with the VTA, but when she attended a community meeting about the Levitt Pavilion project, it intrigued her. “It ignited something inside of me”.

Members of the Dayton community organized the Friends of the Levitt Pavilion to develop neglected green space in downtown Dayton into a community-gathering place with access to the performing arts for all. In 2017 the Friends of the Levitt Pavilion was awarded a grant from the Mortimer & Mimi Levitt Foundation to develop the Levitt Pavilion Dayton.

Lisa recognized that she had influenced VTA, but the concepts of impact and legacy sparked her. “I felt like this was a really great opportunity to be on the ground floor of this amazing community asset”.

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Artist rendering of the Levitt Pavilion Dayton

Consequently, she applied to be the new organization’s first Executive Director. “I was terrified of leaving a well-oiled machine, a $16 million organization to a start-up, but there was something really exciting about being part of the Levitt legacy”.

The Friends of the Levitt Pavilion, now serving as the Board of the new nonprofit organization, Levitt Pavilion Dayton, selected Lisa to become the first Executive Director.

The Levitt Pavilions’ premise is that free, high quality outdoor concerts will increase participation with the arts. “I know for a fact there are people that think they can’t afford an arts experience. If we give you a free concert, we’ve taken away that obstacle”. Beginning in the summer of 2018, Levitt Pavilion Dayton will present free concerts on the Pavilion’s lawn featuring high caliber and diverse local, national and international musicians.

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Artist rendering of the Levitt Pavilion Dayton stage

By increasing participation with the arts, the Levitt Pavilion Dayton will provide a place for residents “to come and connect. Not only connect to music, which I feel is one of the most beautiful universal languages in the world, but then also” to each other as they listen on the lawn. Lisa envisions “diverse socioeconomic generational people all sitting on the same lawn, experiencing a common experience” and sharing conversation. “’Hey, I forgot my mustard, would you pass me the mustard?’ All of a sudden I don’t care where you live, I don’t care what you do, you’re my neighbor now”.

How has Lisa’s work changed now that she’s leading the Levitt Pavilion Dayton?

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Levitt Pavilion Dayton job site; photo by Andy Snow

As the Executive Director, “I’m coming into a universe where now I have to be challenged in areas that I may not be as familiar with, such as a construction project or other nuances of a start up.

In order to open the Levitt Pavilion Dayton in time for the 2018 summer season, Lisa is working with the Board to build the new organization. Together they are engaging in big picture activities like strategic planning, mapping the organizational structure, hiring new staff members, programming and defining the customer experience, to ensure that everyone is invited, everyone feels welcomed and when the lawn is activated that audience members feel connected.

Lisa’s observations:

  • Be true to what feeds you
  • Be open to new experiences
  • Be open to new skill sets. “Don’t fear what you don’t know. Embrace it”
  • Recognize that “you’re not the smartest person in the room, that everyone around you offers you something that can either be put in your tool box for later or that can help develop you”
  • Network, network, network. “Make meaningful relationships, be honest, be humble, be authentic, be accountable”
  • Ask a lot of questions or for help. It’s better to admit you don’t know and do some research

Lisa believes her journey has prepared her for this new phase of her life. “Now I have the skill sets and I have the fundamental pieces of where I can do something, but it was the impact and the legacy piece and the passion of wanting to be part of a different conversation – it just felt like the timing was kind of all falling into place”.

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Levitt Pavilion Dayton, August 17, 2018 Band: Kyle Dillingham & Horseshoe Road

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Hamilton Dixon, Metalwork Sculptor

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Photo by Bill Franz, http://www.billfranz17.com

Hamilton Dixon combines his artistry and expertise in metalwork with his interest in old buildings to thrive as a full-time metalwork sculptor and entrepreneur.

In the beginning…

Growing up in Rome, Georgia, Hamilton Dixon “was a bit of a loner. We lived on a piece of property that wasn’t near many other houses, so I spent a lot of time charging around through the woods by myself with my dog, rigging up booby-traps for invisible bad guys”. His father collected cars, mainly Morgans.

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Vintage Morgan

“He ended up opening a car shop to buy cars, fix them up, and sell them”. Hamilton spent time there “learning to be mechanical and how to weld”.

How did Hamilton build his metalworking skills?

“I had some welding classes in high school and I really liked that”. Hamilton also had a friend in Jasper, Georgia who worked with metal in an old-style blacksmith shop. “He’d heat metal up in a forge and hammer it on an anvil and he was very particular about techniques. And that interested me a lot”.

Following high school, Hamilton joined a friend to work “offshore on an oilrig out in the Gulf of Mexico, just trying to find my way. I liked the welding and fabrication. It was grueling work. You’re on 12 hours and you’re off 12 hours. When you’re off, you aren’t doing anything but sleeping, because you’re just totally ruined”.

After about a year of working on the oilrig, Hamilton traveled to Santa Fe, New Mexico to hone his metal working skills at Turley Forge Blacksmithing School .

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Then Hamilton returned to Rome, Georgia and began “tinkering around” in his father’s car shop. When his dad decided the car shop was no longer a viable enterprise, “I kept the building and started doing stuff on my own”.

How did Hamilton build his reputation as a metalwork sculptor?

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The Bench

“Somebody said, ‘Hey, they’re doing a streetscape project for Rome, Georgia. Do you have any good ideas for a bench?’” Hamilton immediately produced a sketch, which the project planners liked. After some negotiation, they ordered 60. Eventually, he made over 200 benches and sold them to other communities and some colleges. “So that kind of put me on the map with people”.

How did Hamilton transition to Dayton?

In 1990 Hamilton relocated to Dayton, Ohio to join friends. Following a search, he found inexpensive space for his shop in The Front Street Building in downtown Dayton.

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Front Street Building

“That was my headquarters. I knew everyone in Front Street and pretty soon I got a couple projects”.

During the Dayton Art Institute renovation in 1997, the planners asked Hamilton to submit a design for the rotunda handrail. After lengthy negotiations and revised drawings, the planners selected his design.

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Detail, Dayton Art Institute railing

“It was 130 feet of huge railing. That is a lot of forged steel”. Since he was on a tight schedule, “everyone who ever stopped by and hung out at my shop…helped do portions of that railing”.

“After I did that railing, I was getting calls to do all sorts of stuff for all sorts of people – interior railings and you name it. So that’s what I’ve done ever since”.

What is Hamilton’s process to go from a drawing to a finished piece?

Often people have seen one of Hamilton’s existing pieces and ask for something similar. “I’ve always been able to draw just free-hand drawings of a thing. That’s how I talk to a customer”. He sketches his idea, they discuss it, and then he does a more refined drawing. At that point, they generally reach an agreement and Hamilton begins production.

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Drawing on the work table

 “I’m at the person’s house, and I’ll draw on a piece of paper. When I come to the shop, I’ll do a drawing on the table. I figure out life size – how big is that from here to here, how much steel is that? I literally lay a flexible tape measure on that and I’ll just measure the length. All the steel I use starts out as straight bars of steel.”

The size, shape, and textures of the design determine Hamilton’s next steps. In order to bend and shape the metal, he fires the natural gas forge he built, which can be heated to 2,000 degrees. “A piece of steel can be heated up to bright red in about 15 minutes” and ready to shape.

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Anvil

For certain effects, Hamilton hammers metal manually on his anvil. “Basically I have to beat the crap out of it to achieve the textural element”.

For pieces requiring greater force, he uses a power hammer built in the 1940’s acquired from an old metal shop and foundry in Rome, Georgia. “I can hold steel with both hands and then operate this machine. I can hammer steel pretty quickly this way.”

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Forge

To create twisted shapes, “I rush from the forge with a piece of bright red steel” and clamp it in the vise. “I get a big crescent wrench and a big leverage bar. I’ll put a bunch of pressure on it and begin to twist it. Sometimes I hang on it with my entire body weight and other times, I can just twist it easily with one arm. The bigger the piece is, the more difficult it is, but the longer it will stay hot. The smaller it is, it will cool off so quickly that you have to rush”.

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Demonstrating twisting a steel bar

 “I learned a lot of that stuff from the guy in Jasper, Georgia. It’s the same technique as doing little stuff with little jewelry. There’s a million steps to working with metal”.

 How did Hamilton get started renovating old buildings?

Hamilton and his wife, Carli, were friends for a long time before they became a couple. Their first adventure renovating an old building together started when they were deciding where to live after the birth of their first child. They quickly realized Carli’s house was too small for a baby and Hamilton’s collections. They put her house up for sale and began renovating Hamilton’s 1876 house, which needed a lot of work. “There’s no electric and there’s no running water and there’s no kitchen”. Carli’s house sold quickly, however, and the buyers wanted immediate occupancy. “So we had to move into my house and put a temporary wall up in the downstairs and live in the front half of my house with a new baby”. Ultimately, they finished the house.

 When did Hamilton combine renovating old buildings with his metalwork?

Driving into Dayton, Hamilton frequently passed a block of old buildings for sale. “It was basically cordoned off and this building was boarded up”. When Hamilton wanted to move his shop out of The Front Street Building, he and Carli walked through the buildings and the “giant rooms” sparked their imagination.

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Old Atta Boy gas station

The sellers didn’t want to separate the three parcels – the 18,000 sq. ft. building (905 E. 3rd St), the Atta Boy gas station (817 E. 3rd St) and a smaller building (811 E. 3rd St), but Hamilton and Carli didn’t need all that space. They made an offer for the smaller building that was declined. After a year, “we got a nudge to go make them another offer. We worked some miracles financially and made them an offer for the whole parcel.” After a lot of negotiation, they struck a deal.

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Hamilton’s shop

In the first phase of renovation, Hamilton set up his shop in the smaller building, rebuilding the floor and adding three-phase power for his machines. In the next phase, they tackled the larger 1880’s era building. “It was full of abandoned donations for Hurricane Katrina victims. It was pitch-black dark in there; everything was boarded up”. Hamilton and Carli spent thousands of dollars to bring the building up to code and install utilities.

Then they rented space on the first floor to Shon Walters and the Zoot Theater Company. “So we were pulling in a little bit of rent”.

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905 E. Third St.

In time their tenants needed more space and moved out. By then Hamilton and Carli were ready to relocate her business, Bloombeads by freezeframe, from Clayton, Ohio. Since Carli’s business needed space both upstairs and downstairs for production and her showroom, they had to make additional renovations. “There was an old rickety stairway that went up into the ceiling and that was the only access to the upstairs. In order to have a legitimate upstairs, you had to have a code-meeting fire-rated stairwell”.

With help from family, friends and multiple contractors, Hamilton and Carli devoted the time and money necessary to clean out the building and redesign the area in the front. In 2013 they moved Bloombeads by freezeframe into the building.

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Entrance to Bloombeads by freezeframe and The Brightside

Now they are in the next phase of their vision, creation of The Brightside Music and Event Venue. They completed the bar area in the room behind Carli’s showroom and are finishing the big back room. To learn more about their renovation efforts, watch their video story.

The Brightside offers a venue for music, parties, art shows, wedding receptions, and other events. They have a liquor license, “so we can now have our own programming going on here. We’re hoping to get a few more people to invest to get this final room breathing again”.

Hamilton’s observations:

  • At first, to set the prices for the small pieces he started showing in small galleries, he looked at the prices charged by other artists for similar work. Once he sold a few pieces, he had a better feel for his base prices.
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    Functional sculpture, http://www.hamiltondixon.com

    Pricing big jobs was hard, though, because “I had no reference point”, but he discovered his “old friend down in Jasper, Georgia had good reference points for things like that; he helped me figure stuff out”. He also learned that asking customers the scope of their budget helps determine pricing.

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    Gates by Hamilton Dixon that will be repurposed to create a headboard
  • Hamilton and Carli work as a team. “Carli’s the brains behind the thing; she’s the one with the ability to juggle spreadsheets and employees,” while Hamilton provides a wide range of mechanical skills.
  • When Hamilton is overwhelmed, Carli will break the project down into tasks. “A lot of times I’m paralyzed when I come to this building. There’s everything that needs to be done”. Carli will say, “’let’s just do this part right here first; just work with me for 30 minutes’. And four hours later, you’re almost done with the whole thing”.
  • Hamilton advises, “Learn how to be self sufficient…learn how to do mechanical things, stuff you need instead of depending on someone else to do it for you”.
  • In conclusion, Hamilton said, “Try to just do the things you know are good and right”.
HD Jewelry
Jewelry by Hamilton Dixon; http://www.hamiltondixon.com

You can learn more about Hamilton and view his sculptures and process at http://www.hamiltondixon.com/ You can find photos of Hamilton at work by Bill Franz at https://billfranz17.com/2015/08/09/hamilton-dixon-steel-sculptor/

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Welding; Photo by Bill Franz; http://www.billfranz17.com

For information, photos, and booking options for The Brightside Music & Event Venue go to: https://www.thebrightsidedayton.com/

In the Dayton area, Hamilton’s artistic metalwork can be found at the Dayton Art Institute Rotunda, University of Dayton Serenity Pines, the weather vane at Delco Park, the Kettering City Building, Hospice of Dayton entrance sculpture, and many other places.

Brent Johnson, Owner, Square One Salon & Day Spa

Brent 2Brent Johnson combined the business and customer service skills he learned in retail and occupational therapy to build his salon business. Today, he and his partners own and operate six Square One Salons in Dayton and Columbus.

In the beginning…

Brent Johnson has been fascinated by business since childhood. As soon as he turned 16, he got a job in a restaurant and discovered, “I loved working”. In his last year or two of high school, he attended school for a half day and worked half a day. “I always wanted my own business, so the more I could learn, the more I could be exposed to the public, the better my confidence would become, the more I could connect with people”.

Brent’s first two managers taught him to “really listen to and be a problem solver for guests. Really listen to people and find out what they want and go deeper than their answer. Don’t be afraid to step out of your box a little bit and do whatever it takes”.

What did Brent do after high school?

After graduation, Brent quickly moved from a job as a floor manager at a store in the Dayton Mall to become the assistant manager of Benetton at Town and Country Shopping Center, and then the manager of Benetton at the Dayton Mall. The promotions enabled him to move from his parents’ house in Carlisle, Ohio to his first apartment in Dayton’s downtown Oregon District.

Brent recognized, however, that the promotions were both “a gift and a trap”. The increased money was great at the time, but it wasn’t enough to live on forever. Consequently, he enrolled at Sinclair Community College for “one class a quarter”. At that rate, he thought, “by the time I’m 86, I might actually have a degree”.

Although Brent dreamed of owning a business, he was unsure of his direction. “The financial world was sort of in crisis and I got scared I was going to be 50 years old and working in the Macy’s Young Men’s department, selling Levis”. At the time, he was a Visual Merchandiser for Macy’s and loved the creative aspect. Consequently, he decided to pursue the goal of a Masters degree in art therapy. His first step was the 2-year degree program in Occupational Therapy at Sinclair. “Art therapy was in the safe world of the medical field where I would actually have an income and health insurance”.

Upon graduation with his Associate’s degree, Brent immediately took a job at Maria Joseph Nursing & Rehabilitation Center focused on geriatric patients. After three years, he moved to the rehab services at Grandview Medical Center and continued working with similar patients.

How did Brent move from being an occupational therapist to owning a salon?

Brent never lost his dream to open his own business. When two friends, Nick and Doug, and his roommate, now husband, Josh, raised the idea of opening a hair salon, Brent was ready.

Partners
Original Owners Doug, Josh & Brent (Photo by The Carr Photography; source: http://www.squareonesalon.com)

During their early planning, Nick left for Chicago. The three remaining partners each added different dimensions to the project. Doug, a hair stylist, had years of salon experience. Josh, a schoolteacher, had a Master’s degree in learning styles and a degree in massage, which inspired them to plan spa services in the salon. Brent said, “I don’t bring anything to the table other than a lot of retail experience, visual merchandising and customer service. And I love people”.

How did Brent and his partners go from a dream to a successful salon?

Cannery Bldg
The Cannery Building

At first, all Brent and his partners could do was dream. In 1998 a friend told them the Cannery Building in downtown Dayton was being renovated to include retail and residential units. The project planners “were motivated to talk to anybody, because the bank wanted to see retail commitments”. The bank required a business plan, however, and Brent and his partners had no idea how to write one.

When they sought help at SCORE, the mentor “thought we wanted to open a salon like a place to go smoke cigars” and admonished them for failing to wear a suit to their meeting. “It really lit a fire under us”. The partners realized they needed “to act like we know what we’re talking about”.

Then Brent broke his leg. His injury drastically reduced his hours at Grandview, because his job, which included showing patients how to move safely, was “hard to do when I was non-weight bearing on my left leg and in a wheelchair myself”. With time on his hands, Brent started drafting their business plan using a friend’s business plan as a template. It “had nothing to do with my world, but at least I saw a Table of Contents”.

They needed a down payment of $10,000 in order to borrow $100,000, but all they had was $300 and nothing to sell. The partners each raised $3,300 from family and friends, and the bank made the loan.

The partners used $20,000 to buy equipment, start a payroll and pay accounting and legal fees. They used the remaining $80,000 to refurbish the space. In November 1999,

SQ1 Dayton exterior
Square One Salon & Day Spa, Dayton

Brent, Josh and Doug opened Square One Salon with seven employees. “We had 8 styling stations, a massage room and a facial room and a bathroom and a break room and a laundry room… We thought it was important to do it all”.

Brent quit his hospital job to work full-time at the salon. At that time, he didn’t “know the difference between a facial or a highlight”, so he concentrated on customer service and the interior design.

In order afford a pay cut to help the salon’s cash flow, Brent gave up his health insurance and his car and walked to work for two years. He did home health care in the evenings or on weekends to earn supplemental cash.

Square One entered into a contract with Aveda to carry their products exclusively. In return, Aveda provided free education, a free back bar, and business guidance based on Aveda’s analytics. Early on, Brent adopted their benchmarks to measure the salon’s success:

  • Don’t pay more than 6% for rent
  • Don’t let your payroll for stylists go over 45%
  • Make sure your managers and front desk personnel margins don’t run over 8%

What did Brent and his partners do after opening the first salon?

After several years, Brent and his partners opened Therapy Café, a bar/restaurant, also in the Cannery Building. They quickly learned it was a drastically different type of business. “It was a potential killer of everything we had…we had to take out a $400,000 loan and it’s hard to make that up on $2 coffees and $9 martinis”. They also learned owning a bar/restaurant isn’t a party. “You have to stay up late, but you can’t drink”. To Brent’s relief, after four years they sold Therapy Café without going bankrupt.

Therapy Cafe
Therapy Cafe

“We learned some valuable lessons…what I call our adult college:

  • Stick with what you know; do what you do well
  • Just because you do one thing well, doesn’t mean you’ll do everything well
  • Just because it looks like easy money, doesn’t mean it is
  • Nothing is free”

Thereafter, Brent and his partners focused solely on the salon. They knew, however, their space constraints limited their team’s potential to “spread their wings”. “We had people who had been with us for 8-9 years”, and they risked losing stylists to the lure of “opening their own business” by renting a chair in a loft or salon. “They’re in charge of booking their own appointments; coming in when they want to”, which works for some, but not all.

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Square One Salon & Day Spa, Centerville

Square One’s solution was to open a second location in order to give employees opportunities for advancement. Brent found an old building with reasonable rent in downtown Centerville, Ohio. “We’re all about going into historic buildings and renovating that building”. After intense negotiations, Brent and the owner agreed to a five-year lease with the first six months free for the necessary renovations. Square One put $275,000 into the building to complete the 5,200 square foot salon.

How did Brent go from two salons to six?

“Seven years ago, we got really scared again”. Businesses were leaving Dayton and Brent and his partners worried that “all of our eggs are in one basket”. The opportunity to buy two salons in the Aveda network in the Columbus, Ohio area – downtown and New Albany – coincided with Doug’s desire to move there. Brent, Josh and Doug opted to buy them.

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Square One Salon & Day Spa, Columbus; Source: http://www.squareonesalon.com/columbus-gallery.php

Opening the new salons was “a struggle, because their culture was so completely different than ours”. In order establish the quality and customer service expected in a Square One salon, Brent made a lot of trips to Columbus.

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Square One Salon & Day Spa, New Albany; Source: http://www.squareonesalon.com/new-albany-gallery.php

Two years ago, they opened two more salons after a longtime Dayton employee warned Brent he intended to open his own salon. He said, “I want financial security; I want to own a business and be my own boss; and I want to have creative control”. Brent sat down with Josh and Doug to devise a strategy to motivate the employee to stay.

They decided to offer to sell shares of stock to certain employees. Brent, Josh and Doug retained ownership of 51% of the stock and offered 49% to qualified employees. The criteria for eligibility were:

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Square One Salon & Day Spa, Brown St, Dayton
  • Longevity – at least 10 years of employment with Square One
  • Full-time (30 hour/week)
  • Hold a leadership role

They offered shares to seven people and five accepted, including the employee in question. Sale of the shares paid for the build-out at two more locations: Brown Street in Dayton and Oak Creek in Centerville, Ohio.

Owners
Square One Salon & Day Spa, Owners 2017 (Photo by The Carr Photography; source: http://www.squareonesalon.com)

Brent said that with the new shareholders, “I’m really motivated to make sure my employees are happy; so are they. They’re really motivated to make sure they have the education they need to provide great services; so am I. We’re all motivated to keep it looking great; we’re all motivated to make the client happy; we’re all motivated to be sure our benchmarks” are met.

What is Brent’s business philosophy?

Brent’s philosophy is simple: “It matters. Everything matters from the condition of the stairway to the cleanliness of the break room to the treatment of everyone who walks through the door”. No matter whether it’s a client or the UPS driver, everyone should be treated with respect and courtesy.

Treatment of employees also matters. Brent’s emphasis on respect and listening has led to a “95% retention rate with our stylists”. In difficult situations, Brent asks himself “three questions: is it good for the business? Is it good for the client? Is it good for the employee?” He initiates a conversation to understand the situation, discover the employee’s goals, and emphasize his expectations.

Brent believes in creating a balanced team of people with different strengths. “You need to have people who are good at doing books or managing people in addition to people who are good at doing hair”. If everyone was similar, “no one wants to do the books, because everyone sucks at doing the books, but we’re all really great at doing highlights”.

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Square One Salon & Day Spa, Third St, Dayton; Source: http://www.squareonesalon.com/dayton-gallery.php

To give employees opportunities to advance, Square One offers training in both job skills and leadership and management development. Unlike many other salons, Brent distinguishes between managers and stylists in order to benefit from the strengths of each. With training, stylists may advance as teachers and leaders “along with their career behind the chair”.

In addition, the partners demonstrate they care about their employees by providing full-time employees with health insurance and a 401(K) savings plan.

What is Brent’s advice for customer service?

“Never shy away from asking a guest if they had a great experience. If you sense that they’re telling you it was great and it wasn’t,” dig deeper. “I want to know before they walk out the door”.

Brent’s process for resolving client issues is:

  • Thank the guest: “Thank you for making me aware”
  • Apologize
  • If the solution isn’t obvious, ask, “How can we make this better?” “Most of the time, people just want to be heard”
  • Thank them again

“Once you do that and you own it, people just de-escalate really fast”.

 Brent’s observations:

Sq1 Centerville back door
Square One Salon & Spa, Centerville
  • “I’ve never quit one job without having another one in place”
  • “Just because it’s a great idea, doesn’t mean it’s a great idea for you”
  • “You don’t have to have a business degree; you can learn it. It doesn’t have to be taught in a classroom; practical knowledge – for example, Therapy Café – is so valuable”
  • “Don’t try to do everything, because you just can’t master all of it”
  • “Work-life balance is really important; make sure you get your family time in”
  • Brent’s dad taught him, “if you agree to dig a ditch, you make it the best ditch, not a half-assed ditch…when you agree to do it, you do it to the best of your ability, no question”

“I love business and I love my salon, but it’s not the salon business that I love. I don’t love hair, I don’t love creating makeup and hair. I love it when it’s beautiful and I love that my client’s happy and I love watching the artist be creative and be proud of what they do”.

use Sq1 Brown st back
Square One Salon & Spa
www.squareonesalon.com
Phone: 937.461.2222
Email: sq1dayton@gmail.com

Maria Gossard, Owner/Creative Director of Think Printing & Maria Gossard Designs

maria-head.jpg

Maria Gossard overcame significant health obstacles to develop her business featuring beautiful paper, stunning designs and artisanal printing done with close attention to the customer’s vision.

In the beginning…

Maria Gossard grew up surrounded by her extended family in Cyprus. Her English mother and Greek Cypriot father loved growing things and they raised much of their own food on their farm on the Mediterranean coast. “We worked hard and we played hard”.

Cyprus 1
Cyprus

One of Maria’s aunts was an amazing seamstress. “She would allow me two scraps, so I could do dresses for my dolls”. After Maria learned how to sew, she decided, “I’m going to design clothes for me, not because I couldn’t go buy them, but because I found those more interesting. It was an art form”.

When did Maria come to the U.S.?

One of six children, Maria was conscious of the fact that American universities were half the price of English ones. Consequently, she enrolled at Bob Jones University in South Carolina as a biology major with the intention of pursuing her lifelong love of the ocean by becoming a marine biologist.

One night, friends invited her to go to the Art Department. Despite her limited exposure to art classes, “I just fell in love. I never knew that you could have a career in art”. Her “Greek grandfather was a carpenter. He was also a sculptor, but not for a living,” so she grew up thinking “art is what you do on the side”.

“I started doing research and talking to other art majors, ‘How are you going to make a living with this?’” After many conversations with her father, she switched her major to Art & Design. “I took off. It became effortless for me”.

Did Maria continue with Art & Design after she graduated?

After graduation, Maria secured a visa to remain in the U.S. for two years of practical training. She got a position as a “rendering artist with a leading design firm in Washington, D.C., which specialized in palatial residences throughout the Middle East”. Her goal was “to learn as much as I can, but I’m heading back”.

The job was very competitive with a cutthroat atmosphere; 60 to 80 hour weeks were the norm. “Reps visiting from top manufacturers would say, ‘we can cut the tension with a knife’. It was probably the toughest time of my life, but that’s where I learned; where my game was elevated”.

Did Maria remain in that environment?

A year before Maria intended to return to Cyprus, she met her husband, Paul. “He was my kismet”. LexisNexis recruited Paul to come to Dayton, Ohio. “The money was really good, but who lives in Dayton, Ohio? We agreed to try it out for a year. And that was 29 years ago”.

While Maria raised their four children, she freelanced as a designer specializing in interior and product design. “I would design products for the home and garden, then I would sell the ideas to other companies”. Her friend, the owner of Terra Cotta, a store in Columbus, saw some garden markers Maria made for her own garden and offered to sell them. Inspired by that success, “I went to a show with them and a big company said, ‘we’ll give you a $250,000 opening order’”. She quickly discovered “they dangle this carrot in front of you, then they justify stealing the product from you eventually after the first order, having the product mass-produced overseas, and putting you out of business”.

“In this big fish eat the smaller fish kind of world, I learned fast that anything new in the market is yours for one season”. Accordingly, Maria decided just to sell her ideas as prototypes. “That kind of kept me happy for a few years while the kids were growing up”.

 How did Maria get into the printing business?

Maria’s printer decided to retire and approached her to take over their downtown Dayton business-to-business operation, Think Printing. Maria and Paul decided to buy it. “We revamped it, modernized it, turned a 30% profit the first year and then, the big crash happened in 2008”.

Despite the economic downturn and changes in the business landscape, Maria pressed on. But, “after a few years, I got really sick with Lyme disease”.

How did Lyme affect Maria?

“I was misdiagnosed for 10 years, so I kept losing quality of life. Intuitively, I knew something was very wrong. I felt like I was dying from the inside. I couldn’t even get out of bed. I couldn’t walk from my bedroom to my kitchen. I forgot my purpose. The disease kind of rapes you of every energy and every positive thinking”.

“You go to a complete place of helplessness and hopelessness; helplessness is one thing, but hopelessness is a really dark place. But when your brain isn’t working anymore, you’re in this constant brain fog and your body aches, it’s beyond depression; it’s really, really dark. I could no longer participate in my life. I went from being a producer to being a survivor”.

Fortunately Maria’s office manager, Jeff Firestone, had already joined the business. He “became my right hand, very organized, very great work ethic, good with machinery. He actually was able to run it for me. He was amazing”.

Did Maria recover?

Finally Maria found doctors who diagnosed her Lyme disease; recovery took five years. “That time in my life was a time of fasting, praying, seeking just God’s healing. God had my complete attention. He actually showed me things in me that had to change, so it was a spiritual and physical healing”.

“I’m still recovering. Every now and then I’ll get this burst, ‘I’m actually thinking, I’m actually producing again!’ It’s going to be two years that I’m completely Lyme disease free. Big difference, because my brain started working again. Lyme disease changes your life. I’m to the point that I cannot take a day for granted; every day is a gift”.

Why did Maria move the print shop to Cross Pointe Shopping Centre in Centerville, Ohio?

Think Printing DMS was struggling due to the economy and competition from big online printing companies. When Maria’s son, Thomas, got married, “I realized how limited Dayton was in high-end specialized papers for invitations. There was no one in town doing engraving or letterpress. I thought ‘Okay, I’m going to take one more chance with the business before I decide to throw in the towel’”.

Shop3Relocating to Cross Pointe Shopping Centre in Centerville, Ohio allowed Maria to expand her market to individual consumers. “Immediately the reception and the climate and the whole direction was very strongly a positive ‘yes’”.

After a year in the new location, “we were just completely busting at the seams”. She hesitated to move, however, because she had a 5-year lease.

“I said, ‘Oh Lord, it would be so nice if I had a table to sit down with clients when they come in, especially brides, since we were doing more and more weddings, and space to showcase our work’”. A week later, the owners of Cross Pointe asked Maria to relocate since the daycare center next door needed more space.

How did this move affect Maria’s business?

Invitation2Maria officially launched Maria Gossard Designs in March 2016 with an expanded, trendsetting team. Jeff now works part-time, as he is back in school. Roger Owsley, a nationally recognized designer, leads the graphic division. Maria added an experienced silkscreen printer, Bobby Trimbach, to offer items such as golden edges silkscreened on invitations, and limited edition posters for bands and artists around the country.  A retired pressman, Mark Bundy, runs the recently acquired letterpress machines. “I’m proud of our fleet of Chandler & Price Co. manual letterpresses from the late 1800’s, 1909 and 1912”.

 How did Maria learn to operate a business?

When Maria was at a crossroads, trying to decide whether to continue or close, a client encouraged her to checkout Women in Business Networking. She did and decided to commit to their two-year Bridges to Success Mentoring Program, which required periodic training and monthly meetings with different mentors – CEOs or business owners.

“In that two-year process, I realized how much I still had to learn and how I had to grow as a person, because our success in the business world reflects our personal growth. And the 10 years that I had been so sick, I didn’t grow as a person. I shrank as a person”.

program & trimmingsShe invested in educational, entrepreneurial and leadership materials, and workshops with coaches like DaniJohnson.com. “I’m very involved with the mentoring program in the city and now I’m a mentor myself”.

What is Maria’s vision for the business?

Invitations set“Our dream is to bring to Dayton an elevated printing service that only exclusive neighborhoods in bigger cities have and help put our city on the map. It’s all about educating our community and serving them with products” so they don’t wish that they lived in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles. “Instead they’ll say, ‘I got this done in Dayton, Ohio’”.

Invitations set2

Maria’s observations:

  • Ask: “Why do you want to do what you want to do? What’s the purpose? What is your goal? Who is your mentor? Do you understand all the ins and outs?”
  • Understand: “entrepreneurs burn their relationships faster than anyone else, because it’s very stressful”.
  • “You can’t be all things. When you start a business, you cannot be the lawyer; you cannot be the accountant; you cannot be the networker, the one that sells, and the producer. You need a team…nobody can do all those things well”.
  • Avoid thinking: “I want it to happen fast; and if it doesn’t happen fast, I’m a failure. Nothing good in life happened overnight”. Place cards
  • “Having a supportive family is very important, too, and being honest with them, up front. ‘I’m going on this journey and it could be painful at times, it will definitely be stressful at times; is that okay with you?’”
  • “Always having that teachable spirit. I have to remind myself, I might be able to learn from this person or, if it was criticism, what can we learn from this experience? How can we tackle it better next time?”
  • “At the end of the day, can I sleep tonight, because the way I handled all my relationships, my projects, my peers, my clients, was honorable? That to me has far more value than anything else”.

“God has given me the opportunity to tap into my entire life experience and utilize everything I’ve been learning to actually be able to say I am having the best time of my life”.

To learn more about Maria Gossard Designs go to the website at: mariagossarddesigns.com

You can also find Invitations, fine paper, printing and design by Maria Gossard Design on the wedding planning website, the knot, at https://www.theknot.com/marketplace/maria-gossard-designs-centerville-oh-1064055, and on ETSY at https://www.mariagossarddesigns.com/etsy/

Invitation1
Maria Gossard Designs
175 E Alex Bell Rd #204
Centerville, OH 45459