Maven to Know: Catherine Esselman

The go-to woman for new spots to hit up downtown, where to take your next selfie, and what’s happening in our local retail scene spills all her secrets.

Catherine Esselman - Indy Maven

CATHERINE ESSELMAN, SENIOR PROJECT MANAGER FOR DEVELOP INDY

A few years ago, Catherine Esselman wrote a blog post for Downtown Indy Inc., declaring her love for “new-spot discovering” (and “live-music listening”). Now, as senior project manager for Develop Indy, her job is to bring more of those discoveries to the heart of the city, particularly in empty first-floor commercial spaces. Esselman, 38, has lived in other Midwest cities and in Spain but has made her home in Fountain Square since 2008. She has a son, Jonah, who’s almost 4 and “keeps me laughing and adjusting as only a toddler can.”

Here, she lets us inside her head as she “reimagines” retail for downtown, clues us in on more fantastic women to follow, and recommends some really good nachos.

Maven superpower: Adaptability. “Life throws us some whammies and I’ve been able to bob and weave pretty well. And this feels like a Tinder answer, but I can also tie a cherry stem in a knot with my tongue.”

What’s a cool new spot you’ve recently discovered downtown?

It’s hard to pick just one, so I’ll go with the entire 800 block of Mass Ave. The newest destination is Gordon’s Ice Cream (get the nachos). I can’t go into Homespun or Boomerang BTQ without buying something. The selection of gently-used kid’s books at Indy Reads is a gold mine. Plus, free parking behind Trailside. You can’t beat it! 

You lead retail strategy to help downtown Indy achieve its economic goals. What cool things can we look forward to?

Retail in 2020 is about the brand connecting with the customer in an authentic and creative manner. I imagine we’ll see balloon installations, selfie stations, and interactive art throughout our cultural districts. Brands need good real estate to pull this off, so I’m hoping for more risk-taking by the owners of properties so our local talent can pursue out-of-the-box ideas. 

Also, the new and improved Lawn at White River will be ready for summer concerts and I’ll be looking forward to ice skating at the public plaza at Bankers Life Fieldhouse a year from now. 

Another mention is Bottleworks. I see us spending a lot more time in the 800 block of Mass in the 3rd and 4th quarters of the year. I think they will have something for everyone, which hasn’t happened downtown in a while. 

St’ArtUp 317 just opened applications for its third season. The project matches young brands, established businesses, startups, and artists with empty and under-used spaces. What are a couple of pop-up spaces that are on your radar? 

From digital natives to experienced brands, from museums to professional sports, from social media to carmakers, from brand launches to record drops and even political campaigns, pop-ups will flourish and St’Art Up 317 is our way to get their attention. Nickelodeon, Glossier, Le Creuset, Nike, and even Ed Sheeran have done pop-ups in peer cities and we’ll be making sure Indianapolis is on their radar. 

“Life throws us some whammies and I’ve been able to bob and weave pretty well.”
What’s a great Instagrammable spot in or near downtown that most people overlook? 

The Idle: A Point of View, or the mural on my garage (behind Peppy Grill—you can’t miss it). Thanks, Joy Hernandez!  

If you could teach one course in school, what would it be?

“How to Read the Room: A Study in Empathy.”

Must-have purse item? 

Antibacterial/kid’s wipes and my roll-on oil from Ambre Blends. 

Who are some women we should be following in Indy? 

This is tough because I honestly really like Indy Maven’s Maven to Know feature. I don’t “follow” too many bloggers, but I dig Erica Ballard—she’ll get you thinking about how to listen to your body and not the haters. Jennifer Magley has put together a women’s low-key networking lunch once a quarter and is great at connecting women in Indy. 

What’s the ONE thing I should check out in your neighborhood?

We have a pocket park in the heart of my neighborhood (North Square) called The Hot Shot Tot Lot. For the name alone, you should come and have a swing. Thanks, Indy Parks! 

If you could change lives with one person for one day, who would it be? 

Mitch McConnell. I’d censure (the President’s) ass, pass common sense gun reform, and renew the Violence Against Women Act to start with. 

Amanda Kingsbury would like to see a Mass Ave./Hoosier version of French fashion retailer Ba&sh, which has a “dream closet” that lets customers borrow items for 72 hours—and offers pastry-making class. 

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