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mary martineau ... and the world of possibilities.
June 2006
by Karen Edwards

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Mary Martineau - unabashed enthusiasm and curiosity.
© Photo /Rick Borgia

Mary Martineau dwells in possibilities. It’s simply who she is. She sees potential as clearly as the rest of us see the sun – and she’s not one to sit about, watching opportunity slip below the earth’s rim.

Martineau, who is celebrating her first year as marketing director for the North Market, is one of those personalities who will be forever tied to the Short North. She’s been a part of its landscape for more than a decade, a mover and shaker who has helped, in many ways, to shape the neighborhood’s identity.

But to better understand how she’s been able to accomplish all that she has in her 36 years, it helps to first examine the “who.”

Martineau grew up in Cleveland, the oldest of three sisters – and a brother who came along 17 years later. Her father was a teacher, her mother a stay-at-home mom, so, for Martineau, summer stretched forever – endless, halcyon days which mixed work (she’s been employed in some form or another since the age of 14) with the joy of travel.

“My parents definitely gave me the travel bug,” Martineau says. Two weeks of every summer were spent exploring different states, so by the time she was in high school, she had visited most of the continental U.S. But she had yet to travel abroad.

“I went to Miami University specifically because they had a study abroad program,” Martineau says. She was a double-major, studying both marketing and international studies, and it wasn’t long before she found herself in tiny Luxembourg – the cosmopolitan center of the European Union. “It’s a banking capital, very beautiful, and I learned a lot while I was there,” she says.

After graduating from Miami, she entered the management training program at Elder-Beerman and worked with the company for three years – 10 months in Michigan, then in Springfield, where she commuted from the First Avenue home she shared with her husband Eric.

Martineau loved the Short North, so the commute, though arduous in winter, was worth the 40 minutes it took her each way. It wasn’t the commute that wore her down after three years, she says now. It was retailing.

“You don’t have weekends or evenings, you can’t take vacations around major holidays or big sales days. I was getting tired of the schedule,” she says.

On her rare days off, Martineau would wander into a little store (now defunct) called Transformations that sat on High Street, not far from her home. Transformations was where old furniture came to be born again – to a new and brightly colorful life.

“The furniture would be repainted or collaged by the owner, and it looked really cool and funky,” says Martineau. She remembers telling the former owner that she’d like to give up retailing and just come work for her.

It turns out the owner was moving out of town and needed to sell the shop. She asked Martineau if she wanted to buy it.

“I went to the bank, got a loan, and bought Transformations,” Martineau says.

She ran the shop for five years, and Martineau says she enjoyed every minute of it, doing the same kind of artful furniture transformations that her predecessor had done.

“I joined the Short North Business Association while I owned Transformations, and after a year I was on the board,” says Martineau. She became SNBA’s vice president shortly after.

Martineau says her rapid rise on the board was due in large part to her keen interest in other business owners and their businesses. “I’m really interested in entrepreneurs and small business owners,” she says. “I like to find out who these people are, how they started, how they’re doing, and how they run their businesses.” Some would call such activity networking. For Martineau, it was simply unabashed enthusiasm and curiosity.

When P. Susan Sharrock left the SNBA as executive director in 2001, the association’s board launched an executive search to find a replacement. Martineau submitted her application for the job – and got it.

She served as SNBA’s executive director for four years, and she was, in all respects, perfect for the job. No one is more enthusiastic about the Short North – or Columbus – than this ex-Clevelander who has embraced the neighborhood and its businesses from the moment she moved in.

“The Short North is a unique experience,” she says. “You can go to Easton or Polaris and find the same kind of stores and restaurants there you’ll find in similar shopping malls around the country. But there is no Gap in the Short North. There is no Old Navy or Cheesecake Factory. Every shop here reflects the personality of the owner,” says Martineau. “The merchandise may change at pm gallery, for example, but the shop always reflects Maria Galloway (pm gallery owner).”

Martineau says she enjoys the mix of businesses as well – down-home pizza shops and restaurants like Rigsby’s and Basi Italia; trendy clothing boutiques and vintage clothing stores – and the proliferation of art everywhere, not just in galleries.

Plus the Short North is one of those neighborhoods where everybody knows your name. “The shop owners take the time to get to know you,” says Martineau. The next time you’re in their shop, they’ll wave, or greet you by name. You don’t find that at the Gap.

“It helps them, too,” says Martineau. By taking the time to know their customers, they learn what their customers like and don’t like – and they find ways to keep them coming back.

The birth of Via Colori
While still SNBA executive director, Martineau learned of an event, called Via Colori, that was quickly gaining popularity on both coasts The event glorified the art of street painting, and Martineau wanted to bring it to the Short North. It was, after all, a perfect fit for an area lined with galleries and well known as the city’s “art district.”

She gained rights to stage the event in Columbus and worked hard to make Via Colori happen. The first year, Via Colori took place on I-670, before it was opened to traffic. Street painters and local artists took over the new highway, and used colored chalk to paint a cheerful array of art on every subject and motif imaginable – all to amuse the hundreds of spectators who came to view the art and interact with the artists.

The event was a success financially, and in terms of goodwill for the Short North.

It was, however, a draining enterprise. The second year, Martineau was unable to find enough people to help support the event on a volunteer basis, so she hired someone to stage it. That took away from Via Colori’s profits, of course, and the new location at Goodale Park, while lovely, didn’t seem to attract as many people as those drawn to a closed section of a downtown freeway.

“We came up with the luminary idea to keep the crowds coming after dark,” says Martineau, referring to the candles that illuminated the street art at night during the second Via Colori.

But this time the event lost money, and Martineau was beginning to feel the same kind of restless fatigue she had felt after three years of retailing. She knew she needed a change, so when she was invited by the Economic Community Develop-ment Institute to take over as marketing director of its Lynn and Pearl Alley farmer’s market, Martineau left the SNBA and went to work with the farmers, craftspeople and others who sell their produce and wares each summer beneath downtown office buildings.

She wasn’t on the job long – about six months – when David Wible, executive director of the North Market, approached her about a possible job opportunity there. She was already on the North Market board of directors, so Wible was well aware of her leadership skills – but Martineau told him there was only one job at the market she was interested in and qualified for – marketing director. And Michelle Mooney already had the position.

Little did she know that Mooney had resigned her post and was headed to Whole Foods to serve as the mega-store’s marketing director.

“So it turns out the job was open, and I took it,” she said.

North Market photo by Rick Borgia

“She was the right person at the right time,” Wible says about his now one-year employee. “She had a unique blend of experience, including in the not-for-profit world with the SNBA, and an intense knowledge of retailing and small business experience.” In addition, Martineau had planned events and had worked with farmers and growers connected with the Pearl Alley market. For Wible, Martineau was a complete package.

“Mary has boundless energy and enthusiasm for the market,” Wible adds. “She is always out there promoting it.”

No wonder. Martineau says she is a huge fan of the North Market and always has been. After all, it offers the same thing her beloved Short North offers – entrepreneurs of all sorts managing their businesses, serving a diverse clientele, getting to know their customers.

“It’s an experience shopping here,” says Martineau. “I love the hustle and bustle, and always running into people I know. And the quality of the food here is wonderful.”

She points out that chefs from all the Short North restaurants stop by the market on a regular basis to buy what’s fresh and seasonal, and she says she loves that entire families come to the market with their children in tow. “It’s training another generation to shop here,” she says.

And that’s important if the North Market is to remain the vital, energetic business it is today. There are rumors afloat that Whole Foods may place one of its stores downtown, within shouting distance of the North Market.

“If that happens, obviously I’ll have some work to do,” says Martineau.

That’s not to say, though, that she doesn’t have her work cut out for her now. She says she’s astonished by friends who are familiar with Columbus and even the Short North but say they’ve never heard of the North Market.

Such unfamiliarity seems hard to believe. After all, the North Market has been a part of the Columbus scene since 1876, and some of its current purveyors, Jeni’s Fresh Ice Cream, for example, and Pure Imagination Chocolatier, are nationally known. And just try to find parking space around the Spruce Street market when there is a special event. Those occur almost monthly, starting in February with the Fiery Foods Festival.

Last month, the 10th annual Apron Gala, a behind-the-scenes, after-hours “tasting event” benefiting the North Market was held, and this month, watch for a new event, “Grillmasters Festival,” which will take place at the Market on June 17.

“It replaces the Berries and Dairy Festival,” says Martineau. She explains the berries festival just wasn’t working well for the merchants. “That time of year, it’s too late for strawberries and too early for the other berries.” It was, however, the height of grill season, and there is so much at the market that goes well on the grill, says Martineau – from meats to vegetables.

Another new event will take place in September replacing the Apple Festival – again because merchants told her their fruit just wouldn’t be ready in time. “We’re replacing it with a microbrew festival,” says Martineau. It’s just a month before traditional Oktoberfest activities, “and we’re surrounded by microbreweries,” says Martineau.

With all the festivals, activities, and simply familiarizing locals and visitors with the North Market, Martineau has her hands full most days of the week.

In her off-hours
When she doesn’t work, she fills her time in various ways – taking her 10-year old Siberian Husky Wiley for a walk or riding around on her Vespa scooter.

“Mary’s husband Eric is really the scooter enthusiast,” says friend Trish Gentile, who, along with John Dornback, own Basi Italia. “Eric got Mary the scooter a couple of years ago.”

“We also own a rickshaw we purchased on eBay,” says Martineau, with a laugh. “We’re into transportation.” So, if you happen to be strolling the north campus neighborhood where the Martineaus live and see a Vespa or a rickshaw pass by, don’t forget to wave.

When she can, she travels – out to Oakland to visit her sister, to Seven Springs for hiking and fishing, and the occasional far-flung trip to places like Greece, one of her favorite vacation spots.

She loves Comfest – “a real community festival,” Martineau says, and she’s usu-ally there selling her painted and decoupaged furniture and mirrors. (When Comfest isn’t running, look for Martineau’s transformed creations at pm gallery.)

In the short term, five years from now, Martineau says she hopes you’ll still be able to find her at the North Market.

“Everyone else on staff has worked here five years and more,” she says. And she loves being a part of the market itself.

Gentile sees no reason why Martineau wouldn’t be there as long as she wanted. “She has such energy, and she has the kind of ability that inspires people, gets them motivated,” she says. “She’s full of excitement and ideas. She’s just a good person.” But beware, she adds as an afterthought, “Mary always has a camera in hand. You never know when you’ll suddenly find a picture of yourself posted somewhere,” she says.

In the short term, then, it’s unlikely things will change much for Martineau. But where does she see herself in the long term? “I’d like to do a shop again,” she confesses. Something like the old Transformations.

“I’ve learned a lot since I had the store,” she says. “I’ve learned you need items at different price points so if someone isn’t able to spend the money for an Edward Hopper desk, they can still walk away with a small mirror.”

The stars seem to be aligning themselves for that eventuality. A fellow Short North business neighbor (Anne Simon of No Lemmings Allowed) and friend is moving back to Columbus and will most likely open a shop or studio in the Short North.

“My dream is to work here during the day, then work with her creating the items for her shop in my off hours,” says Martineau.

With Mary Martineau, they never seem to end.

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