2021 Navigator: Main Street’s Popovich ‘passionate about all things Steamboat’
Lisa Popovich is downtown Steamboat Springs’ biggest cheerleader. As executive director of Main Street Steamboat, she serves as an ambassador for local businesses, works to preserve Steamboat’s rich heritage and executes events aimed at giving visitors and locals a reason to gather downtown.
And while she is an outgoing advocate for all things Steamboat, her work also includes important, behind-the-scene tasks, like waking up at 5 a.m. to water the flower baskets that line downtown streets, picking up trash after a busy weekend and making sure the Farmers Market goes off without a hitch every Saturday during the summer.
That tireless work ethic and passion for downtown are just two of the reasons Popovich is being recognized as the Navigator Award’s Nonprofit Leader of the Year.
“I’m so very flattered and just thrilled,” Popovich said about the award, which is new this year. “The board and all the volunteers who work for me are so excited, and that means so much.
What: 2021 Navigator Awards Celebration
When: 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 8
Where: Snow Bowl, 2090 Snow Bowl Plaza
Cost: $65 per person
For event and ticket information, visit SteamboatChamber.com/membership/member-events/navigator-awards
“I largely think that what I do no one notices,” Popovich added. “So this acknowledgment that what we do matters is huge.”
Popovich has been leading the local Main Street organization for seven years after working in retail for decades. A native of Westfield, Massachusetts, Popovich enjoyed a successful career as a senior executive, a multistore manager, recruiter and regional trainer for companies like G. Fox, Eddie Bauer and Rue 21.
Early in her career, Popovich vacationed in Steamboat but ended up moving here for seven years. She worked in various jobs around town and at the mountain before returning to her life as a busy executive.
In 2014, Popovich was living in Denver and working for Petco when she planned another trip to Steamboat, and during that visit, she decided she wanted to move back. Around that same time, she read an article in Steamboat Pilot & Today about the retirement of Tracy Barnett, the founder of Steamboat’s Main Street organization, and she immediately knew that was the job for her.
“I called Tracy, and we talked for like an hour and a half on the phone,” Popovich said. “She told me what she did, and I told her what I had been doing, and I decided then, I really want to do this. I also reconnected with all these people I had worked for in the past, and I think 22 people called Tracy and said, ‘You should hire her.’”
Popovich was hired, and she’s been working tirelessly for the nonprofit ever since. Her role is multifaceted, but it’s guided by Main Street’s mission to preserve, promote and enhance downtown.
When it comes to preservation, Popovich said her efforts extend beyond saving a historic building.
“It’s about the preservation of our traditions, our way of life,” Popovich said. “It’s things like the Halloween Stroll, Winter Carnival, the ice cream social after the Fourth of July Parade, the pancake breakfast. We do these things for us and then other people — visitors — get to look in and see who we are, what makes us different than other communities.”
And enhancing downtown involves all the “icing on the cake” things, Popovich said, like new trash cans on Lincoln Avenue and lights on the trees that line downtown streets.
She also spends a lot of her time serving on various committees and working with other nonprofits to ensure downtown’s voice is heard.
“It all serves the endgame, which is economic vitality,” Popovich said. “Main Street is essentially an economic development program, and it is the best one in the country.”
One of Popovich’s most visible accomplishments is the Main Street Steamboat Farmers Market, which has grown from 45 vendors to 145 under her leadership. She also found a way to make the market happen last summer during COVID-19, providing a sense of normalcy and a way for people to safely gather during a time of uncertainty.
When it comes to working with other nonprofits, city government or the ski area, Popovich believes in collaboration.
“I don’t have to lose for you to win, because your success is my success,” Popovich said. “And as much as I do this for the community, I do it for myself, as well, because I love this place, and I want it to remain the place that I love.”
Those who work alongside Popovich say they appreciate her passion and endless support for downtown businesses.
“She’s a go-getter, and everything she says she’ll do, she follows through with,” said Trent Kolste, who owns Urbane with his wife, Mel, and serves on the Main Street board of directors. “She is the contact point for all businesses downtown and does a great job of communicating with everyone. She wants to see people succeed, and she’s done so much for the downtown culture.”
Liza Scudder, another Main Street board member and manager of Overland’s Steamboat location, describes Popovich as an amazing connector.
“She’s an amazing conduit of information, and she knows how to get things done,” Scudder said.
Scudder also values Popovich’s work ethic.
“You don’t find Lisa in her office — she’s boots on the ground,” Scudder said. “She is also very good at thinking on her feet and having a plan B and C, and she is someone who is very positive and good at building a team.”
Sally Messinger is one of a host of volunteers that Popovich has recruited to serve as Main Street ambassadors. Messinger has worked with Popovich for five years and is a huge fan.
“Lisa has grown the organization significantly to preserve the unique character of downtown Steamboat,” Messinger said. “Her efforts have kept main street Steamboat a thriving and economically vital business district. Lisa is always thinking of new ways to bring folks downtown by keeping Main Street events, like Red, White, and Brews, the Chili Challenge and the Santa House, fresh and exciting.”
Messinger also says Popovich is a visionary.
“She thinks outside the box to find ways to continuously improve the Main Street experience for locals and visitors. She empowers those on her team — staff, board and ambassadors — to run with her ideas and contribute their own creativity,” Messinger said. “And she is extremely passionate about all things Steamboat.”
To reach Lisa Schlichtman, call 970-871-4221, email lschlichtman@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @lschlichtman.
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