Sophie Smith and the six people sat around a table in a room no bigger than a standard broom closet, discussing a property tour of the empty buildings in downtown Brunswick.
The Brunswick Main Street office sits across from city hall. It is a small office. Besides the closet-sized conference room, there is one desk and a couple of chairs. Right now, there is only one full-time employee, Smith. The organization is overseen by a board.
The last tour went well, the members of the Economic Revitalization Committee decided, although there were some features that might change for the next one they plan. Along with the details for the next tour, the committee members discussed helping businesses with their advertising and possible pop-ups the city could host.
The Economic Revitalization Committee is just one that Smith sits on as the Brunswick Main Street manager. Her days differ, she said. Some nights might include holding a committee meeting or speaking to the council. Earlier in May, she spent mornings at training to learn how to get better Google recognition.
“There’s never the same day twice,” Smith said.
Brunswick is a city working toward revitalization. While the town attracts people to its streets due to its access to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park and its brewery, the city suffers from vacant buildings and a lack of downtown businesses.
“People are here, they’re just on the trail or on the river or hiking the Appalachian, and so that’s also how we get new people to come to our [city], ” Smith said.
But Smith, along with the board and commissions of Main Street Brunswick, is working to bring new businesses and people to the city. Smith is the first full-time manager for the organization.
In her first year as manager, Smith brought a new energy to the organization, marked by detailed reports she gives during city council meetings that encapsulate the various events put on by Brunswick Main Street or efforts to breathe new life into the city.
From Smith’s reports, it sounds as if there is never a moment of downtime in the city. There are small city Saturdays, a progressive dinner in mid-May, an upcoming barbecue and beer bash, a chocolate walk and events around major holidays.
“I think Brunswick comes out for events. I think sometimes we struggle with keeping people entertained in the day to day, but Brunswick really loves having something to do,” Smith said. “Our community really gathers around events.”
Smith’s energy stood out to the board of Brunswick Main Street when they hired her in 2018 to lead the group, said Abbie Ricketts, a board member who served as chair when the board hired Smith.
“There’s always a lot of different projects, work that needs to be done, and sometimes you really need to think outside of the box and hit the ground running,” Ricketts said. “And it’s just important that your person managing your program have a lot of energy and passion to do those things.”
Smith recently graduated from Hood College, and while completing her degree in global studies with a concentration in economics and a concentration in government, as well as a minor in nonprofit studies, she interned with the Frederick Downtown Partnership, which led her to the job in Brunswick.
“So this was really the best of all worlds, this job for me,” Smith said.
Smith is originally from Brunswick, although not the city in Maryland. She grew up in Brunswick, Maine, she said. She spent seventh and eighth grade in England and spent a year in France after graduating high school. She completed high school in three years, rather than the traditional four, she said. While in college, she spent a semester in Tanzania.
“When I first came to Brunswick, I didn’t really know what to expect,” Smith said. “I saw some of the empty buildings and assumed that not enough was being done” Smith said. “After being here for the nine months that I’ve been here, I’ve learned that people are so passionate. People really care about what happens to this town, down to every detail. So it’s not that people aren’t doing anything, people care so much. We just sort of have to figure out a direction forward that would make everyone happy.”
The challenge facing Brunswick Main Street is the number of vacant properties that line downtown. A February fire only intensified the challenge, although the four damaged buildings are now incorporated into the proposed Railroad Square project.
But while the buildings are empty, not all of them can be sold or rented, Ricketts said. So a challenge facing the organization is how to get the buildings up to code so that they can be occupied, she said.
For the buildings that can be rented, Smith works to paint a vision for potential buyers or business. During property tours, she and other guides gave out information on water and sewer, as well as for what the building could be used.
And the events are designed in such a way to help the businesses, Smith said. The business have the opportunity to participate with them, such as the Taste of Brunswick in mid-May, which featured the restaurant community.
“So all of our events try to incorporate the business, but we also try to make sure they’re connected to opportunities of education,” Smith said.
The board considered Smith’s experience and knowledge, in addition to her energy, when evaluating her for the job, Ricketts said. Part of Smith’s job as manager means working with different businesses, agencies and people.
Since Smith joined, she created a website for the organization and focused on projecting the image of the city and its main street, Ricketts said.
“She just works really hard at everything we’re trying to accomplish,” Ricketts said. “She really does.”
Smith’s hard work is evident from the renewed energy in the small office. And while Smith has accomplished bringing back committees or new events, her favorite part of the job is the community she serves.