In his pop-sociological bestseller, TheTippingPoint, author Malcolm Gladwell wrote that for any idea to really take off, it requires three distinct types to work on its behalf.
“Mavens” are the heady information specialists who are pathological sharers of all they know. “Salesmen” are those people-people with a knack for charm and persuasion. And “connectors” are men and women with social networks sufficiently wide and disparate to bring together people and ideas that would otherwise be like ships in the night.
Christine Vilardo is a classic connector.
Since taking over as executive director of the Ardmore Initiative in 2007, the former choreographer has used her smarts and deep Rolodex to create unique opportunities for local businesses and forge alliances between residents, government, and shop owners.
“I just try to put people in touch with people I think they should know,” shrugged Vilardo.
“I’ve also tried, since I’ve been in this position, to make our organization more responsive to the needs of the entire community, not just the commercial property owners. We’ve reached out to the business community, residents, churches, civic organizations, non-profit organizations, and opened lines of communication among all those Ardmore stakeholders.”
Vilardo and others like her are “really bringing Ardmore back to its classic glory.” - Cheryl Gelber
The fruits of these alliances include, but are most certainly not limited to, Lower Merion High School’s efforts to construct a school in Haiti, the Ardmore Blossoms festival, First Friday Main Line, The Clover Market, a Bridal Block Party, and OctoberFest.
Vilardo saw to it that, after being anonymously nominated, Ardmore earned a “Classic Town” designation from the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission.
“It basically provides more exposure to Ardmore,” said the often humble Vilardo. “For a business considering a new location, it puts Ardmore on the forefront of their mind.”
And small business, certainly, is where her heart is. After retiring from a career in the arts, Vilardo opened a scuba store (Aqua Hut Dive and Travel) in Philadelphia’s trendy Manayunk section (she’s since moved it to Ardmore) and was energized by the charge of running a retail operation.
Most of her efforts now go towards enabling others to do the same.
“We wanted a place on the Main Line, but Ardmore wasn’t the first place we looked,” recalled Nancy Smith, who opened a new location for her oil, spices and vinegar specialty shop A Taste of Olive on Lancaster Avenue in downtown Ardmore 10 months ago. “But having the resource of Christine made the difference.”
Vilardo introduced Smith to other local business owners, arranged for her to look at vacant storefronts, clarified the area’s long-term growth plans, helped with paperwork, and even arranged for the business to get grant money for a new awning (Ardmore’s “Commercial Façade Improvement Program”).
“People who live and work in Ardmore love Ardmore,” said Lower Merion Township Commissioner Cheryl Gelber, at the Classic Towns event in July 2011. Through the efforts of Vilardo and others, town leaders “are really bringing Ardmore back to its classic glory.”
“She’s the person you go to if you ever need anything,” said Smith. “If she doesn’t know the answer, she knows the person who does.”