Manayunk: Keeping Up With the Woman Who Runs Main Street

Chances are if you have seen a new business or event in Manayunk, Jane Lipton has been a part of it.  Lipton (below right) is the executive director of the Manayunk Development Corporation. Her job consists of tasks like working with business owners, planning events and festivals, and organizing murals.

What is the mission of the Manayunk Development Corporation?

The mission of the Manayunk Development Corporation is to promote Manayunk as a destination to live, shop, dine and play. That’s kind of the current one sentence mission. We do so many different things here that are very noticeable like art festivals and street food festivals. But we also do things that people have no idea we pay for ourselves. A perfect example was a project where we repaired all of the light fixtures on the Green Lane Bridge. After seven years of trying to figure out who owns those lights, no one would take responsibility for them. And yet this major gateway to Manayunk had light fixtures that had broken glass. Finally, we replaced them ourselves. People don’t realize that we do that kind of thing.

How long have you been working for the Manayunk Development Corporation?

In an official capacity, I have been working for them since 2009. By the middle of the 2000s, Manayunk was really having a lot of problems. It was heavily student populated and the businesses were suffering. The Manayunk Development Corporation was churning through executive directors. I got a phone call one day from some business owners on the street that knew me, I was selling real estate at the time, and they asked me if I would be interested in going for the executive director position. I saw a challenge. I thought it would be cool. I could articulate the goals of the district. I knew who the players were and knew what the problems were so it was easy for me to get in here and make a lot of changes fast.

So you wanted to make Manayunk a place for everybody and not just college students?

We still need student population here. We need people to come here when they are 16 and have fun biking here and having a good time here and we need them to grow into young adults who come here to go to bars and restaraunts. We need them to grow into young family members and we have businesses that will step up with them as their income grows and their taste grows. Partying is fun. We’ve all been there. It’s great. You hit a certain age and you don’t want to do that anymore and you can’t or don’t want do that anymore. We want to have the next place for you to come and have a bigger and better experience. So that’s what we work for. The perfect balance of kids coming to have a good time with their parents up to the retirees who want to sit down with a glass of wine and look at the river and buy art.

It seems like if there is an important person or business in Manayunk you know them?

I better know them all, and if I don’t, there’s something wrong. That doesn’t mean I have to work closely with them, but I meet the new business owners before they open. I hear in the wind that someone signed a lease and I am trying to get the name and the email address and have a meeting with them so that when they open, they know I am there as an advocate for them.

Do you help new businesses get off their feet in Manayunk?

Financially, no we don’t. We don’t have grants. People come in all the time and ask me if I can help them find money and I’ll point them to commerce and PIDC. I’ve heard many lack of business plans that I didn’t think had a chance and I ask penetrating questions. You can lose a lot of money fast if you don’t know what you’re doing in business today. The way that I help people get started in Manayunk is I ask them the right questions about their business plan. I ask the right questions about taxes, permits and all the things they need to be legitimate in the business world.

— Text and images by Will Brown and Demetrius Mason.

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