Leesburg's new downtown coordinator is used to telling visitors where to go for lunch in the historic district. Her new job, Lisa Capraro says, is to give them a reason to stay longer, to walk down the side streets and possibly spend a little more money.
"I know what it's like to run a business in this area," said Capraro, 37, who spent the past three years as director of retail at Oatlands, where she ran the gift shop, ordered merchandise and developed the customer base.
Capraro, who started her duties with Leesburg's Department of Economic Development on Monday, will serve as the town's liaison to the downtown business community. Her first order of business, Capraro said, is to meet business and property owners. Her goal is to ensure they are "able to have somebody hear their concerns and ideas."
Capraro's responsibilities will include implementing the town's new parking plan, which will limit free parking in the Town Hall garage, standardize meter rates downtown and allow businesses to validate customers' parking entry tickets. She will coordinate the installation of additional parking meters and an automated payment system in the Town Hall garage by spring. Capraro said it will be equally important to explain to downtown merchants how they will benefit from the new policy, which was designed to increase turnover in the town's most desirable parking spots.
"It will encourage people to come downtown even if they're in a hurry," Capraro said.
Paige Buscema, vice president of the Leesburg Downtown Business Association, said the town needs a staff member focused exclusively on the needs of the downtown area. She said she envisions the coordinator's role as helping merchants navigate various town departments as they encounter problems or plan special events. For example, the coordinator could tell businesses the permits they need or whether streets will be closed for an event.
"You call her, and she'll tell you, 'You need to call A, B and C,' or she'll help do the homework for you," said Buscema, who owns Eyetopia, an eyewear and accessories boutique on Loudoun Street. "Organizations need a single point to go to in the town and say, 'This is happening' or 'This is a concern.' "
Betsy Fields, the town's director of economic development, said it had become obvious that her two-person department needed more help. "The more that we do in terms of economic development, the more there is to do," she said.
Capraro graduated from the University of Virginia with bachelor degrees in English and anthropology, which she said will come in handy as she continues the development of Leesburg Crossroads, a program patterned after the National Trust's Main Street program, which encourages communities nationwide to energize their historic areas with arts events, preservation and business initiatives.
The undertaking will require finding practical ways to draw customers -- locals and tourists alike -- into downtown businesses while making the most of such projects as the new free trolley linking the historic district downtown with Leesburg Corner Premium Outlets mall and signs that will direct motorists from the bypass to downtown attractions.
Capraro said maintaining the downtown's aesthetic ambience and historic buildings also must remain a priority.
"There are wonderful old buildings in Leesburg that have been preserved, and any new businesses are going to need to follow suit," she said.