Her day starts with the discovery that a big couch has come to rest right in the middle of the street. No problem, the clean team is on the case. The woman who alerts the four-guy cleanup crew is Rachel Sieg, executive director of the Historic Downtown Special Improvement District (HDSID).
She often invokes the clean team, which empties 100 trash cans a day in the district, as an essential cog in the wheel that keeps downtown Jersey City the vibrant place that it’s become.
The HDSID is a public/private partnership of property and first-floor business owners who have an impact on historic downtown. It works with local businesses and neighborhood associations in conjunction with city government to maintain and enhance what is arguably Jersey City’s most popular hood.
PATH Plaza on Grove and the pedestrian mall are the throbbing heartbeat of the area. The HDSID promotes events like Groove on Grove, the farmers market, the artist maker market, and the All About Downtown street fair that attracts some 30,000 people.
“The pedestrian mall is amazing for the downtown area and for business owners,” Sieg says. “They’ve done really well.”
Sieg confirms what we hear all the time from young people who move to JC. They start off running back to Manhattan for dinner with friends, but that lasts about a week. Almost immediately they discover all our great bars and restaurants, and pretty soon, those city friends are hopping on the PATH and coming over here.
“With the amazing businesses and restaurants, you don’t have to go to New York,” Sieg says. “I do everything in the SID—groceries, shopping, nails, hair. I have no reason to go to the city. Why go to the city if you have it all here?”
Minding the Store
The historic downtown didn’t get where it is today by osmosis. “We had to work really hard to make it happen,” Sieg says, “to make the downtown a nice place to live and shop.”
Sieg, who grew up in Princeton, attended an all-women college in Boston, earning a bachelor’s degree in business.
She spent a couple of years in San Francisco, where her husband had landed a job, but her Jersey roots run deep. “I missed home,” she says, “and my father told me that Jersey City was up and coming, so instead of moving to New York, we moved to Jersey City and have been here 10 years now.”
Being executive director of HDSID is her day job. “It’s more than full-time work,” she says. “It’s seven days a week.”
When she’s not asking the clean team to get the DPW to remove a couch on the road, she’s doing paperwork, answering emails, meeting with business owners, attending grand openings or blood drives, or working with her three-person staff in the HDSID offices at Grove Point.
“I wear a lot of hats,” she says.
Change for the Better
Sieg points to signs of success, such as the number of daycare centers, doggie daycares, and the energy on the pedestrian mall. “Because of the HDSID, we’ve planted flowers, and every year we have a Christmas tree lighting and snowflakes,” she says. “There will be a real tree in the mall area, and we’re hiring a professional decorator.”
The HDSID board boasts longevity. Jerry Blankman was a founding member of the HDSID, and board president Steve Kalcanides is celebrating 50 years at Helen’s Pizza.
Currently there are more than 250 businesses in the district, and one of Sieg’s goals is to expand the HDSID.
“The best reward,” she says, “is getting emails from people or people walking down the street who thank you for helping them.”
Sieg herself is the best advertisement for the district.
“It doesn’t get any better than sitting outside with a sangria and watching people go by,” she says. “I love my job.”—Kate Rounds