When she moved to Indy in 1997,"Something that I struggled with and wanted to change was the identity of Indianapolis as a city of chain businesses," says Kristen Kohn, owner of the popular Massachusetts Avenue boutiques Silver in the City/At Home in the City and Nurture. She is a local business advocate and believes that the "fun and funky" Massachusetts Avenue corridor "shows a better image of what Indianapolis is all about. We've got our own unique beat." Kohn's hip stores add a unique touch to the strip, but her biggest contribution has been rallying other Massachusetts Avenue business owners to develop a distinctive and unified cultural destination.
From the beginning, Kohn saw Massachusetts Avenue's strength in its people. She helped to establish the Massachusetts Avenue Merchant's Association, and has been a leader in its growth from five to 80 members. The group's unification projects include producing a map and planning special events that encourage visitors to explore the entire street. MAMA also collaborates with other groups that have an interest in the area. Many are concerned with area development issues like neighborhood planning and tourism marketing, and Kohn has worked closely with these groups.
Kohn is also able to promote her own passion for eco-friendliness through a MAMA/Keep Indianapolis Beautiful partnership. She spearheaded a project to bring recycling bins to the avenue, including a successful fund raiser that sold reusable shopping totes. Kohn thinks the project can serve as a model for public/private partnerships in other neighborhoods. Next on her agenda is procuring a community cardboard recycle bin. Already, Kohn fills her car weekly with cardboard to recycle; she also typically bikes or walks to work, bought a bike for employees to run errands with and gives a discount for shoppers with reusable bags from her store. "Doing it yourself is great, and encouraging others is even better," says Kohn, who promotes these practices to other Massachusetts Avenue businesses.
She has time for community involvement because her businesses run smoothly. Kohn attributes her success to unique, reasonably priced products and a welcoming atmosphere. She treats her employees as her peers, appreciating their individuality and encouraging them to bond. Employee Maya Worman says, "We are all provided with insurance, a very generous pay rate and a comforting work environment," and believes that Kohn sets new standards for generosity in business.
Kohn shares the businesses' success with her team as well as the many local charities she supports. "I love being a small part of something larger," Kohn says.
Kohn's investment in the community infuses both her business and personal life. The farthest she's ever lived from Massachusetts Avenue is 13 blocks, and she spends free time with her kids visiting the other shops. "I don't think I've ever felt as much a part of the community as I do here," Kohn says. Although she never expected to get involved in city planning or environmental leadership, she is now a fixture of the Massachusetts Avenue community she's worked to build. "Fifteen years ago I wouldn't have thought I would want to settle down in Indianapolis," she says, "but now there's no other place I could think of calling home."