Two biz owners
November 02, 2011 - Construction knowledge and artistic vision were added to the Oxford Downtown Development Authority (DDA) last week with the appointment of two new board members, Jim Bielak and Dorothy Johnston.
Bielak, who owns Beadifferent Boutique at 7 N. Washington St., will serve on the DDA board until September 2014, while Johnston, who owns Johnston Photography at 8 N. Washington St., will serve until September 2012.
"It's something that I've kicked around and thought about for a while – getting more involved with the community," said Bielak, a Metamora resident who's owned the downtown business for eight years and the building for six years.
"I thought maybe I could jump in and help with the skills and talents I have," said Johnston, an Oxford Township resident who's owned her business and building for about 8˝ years.
Bielak worked as electrician for General Motors for 34 years before retiring two years ago. He's a licensed master electrician and licensed builder. On Nov. 8, he plans to take the state exam to become a licensed electrical contractor as well.
In addition to his knowledge and experience in the area of skilled trades, Bielak has a bachelor's degree in business administration.
"I want to see if I can make any kind of a difference or help move things along regarding the development of the downtown," he said.
Bielak's particularly interested in the Complete Streets effort, which involves redesigning the downtown's streetscape to make it more pedestrian-friendly and help slow motor vehicle traffic along Washington St. (M-24). He's joining the DDA's Economic Restructuring Committee, which is spearheading the effort to improve the downtown sidewalks and streets.
"From what I've seen for the past eight years down there, this is an issue that's kind of been a monkey on the back of the DDA for a while," he said. "It seems like this time a lot of people are on the same page with it."
"When the town was first built, it was never designed to have this type of traffic volume going through it," noted Bielak, who wants to help "balance" the needs of pedestrians and traffic, yet still "retain downtown's historical charm."
"I'd like to see a little more definition brought to the downtown (so that) when you get into the downtown area, you know you've arrived," he said.
Bielak believes his construction background could be an asset to the DDA when it comes to analyzing the cost and feasibility of the various streetscape improvements it wishes to make.
He's also interested in using that knowledge to help ensure the "continuity" in appearance of existing and future downtown buildings. He believes the DDA's already done a good job in this area thanks to the grants it makes available to business and property owners for facades, signs and doors.
"I'd like to see that continued," Bielak said.
Johnston, who's a professional photographer, indicated she's approaching her service on the DDA board from "more of an artistic angle."
"I have an eye for color and design and putting things together," she said.
Johnston's interested in using her skills to aid in everything from promoting downtown activities to enhancing the appearance of buildings. She's interested in joining the DDA's Design Committee.
"The big thing is getting people down here and feeling like this is a community in which they can shop," Johnston said.
Like Bielak, Johnston is also concerned about the vehicular traffic through downtown Oxford, particularly large trucks, the loud noises they generate and their negative impact on pedestrians.
"To me, that's the big thing right now – trying to get a handle on that," she said.
The trucks and noise are what create the biggest difference in "ambience" between here and neighboring downtown Lake Orion, in Johnston's opinion.
"It's much more peaceful and enjoyable to walk around down there," she said.
But make no mistake, Johnston loves downtown Oxford.
"It's a friendly town," she said. "They do a lot to draw folks down here. Lots of great events and I think they're all well attended. I like that small town feel."
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.