Taking care of Marietta

Those who do not know Karen Briley might still see her climbing up ladders downtown to hang flower baskets from the lampposts that line the streets, or running around coordinating the annual Red, White and Blues Festival.

Regardless of what she might be doing, chances are she is doing it to help beautify the city of Marietta in any way possible.

Though a 20-year coordinator of the popular festival on the 4th of July and a driving force in the beautification projects that power Marietta, Briley is a humble volunteer, crediting the work done in Marietta to the community and team effort of several different organizations.

“I do all these things for the sake of the community and for the sake of downtown,” she said.

It was 20 years ago when the mayor of Marietta bought hanging flower baskets to put up downtown, but without a plan, Briley and other merchants and community members formed the Friends of Front Street to help fund the equipment and expertise involved in maintaining the baskets.

“From there we started the Red, White and Blues festival to actually raise the money for equipment and someone to maintain them,” Briley said. “They are all put up and taken down by volunteers.”

The hanging baskets go up before Memorial Day, and though originally started on Front Street, have since been expanded to Putnam and Greene streets.

“We want to make a good first impression and a lasting first impression on people visiting,” Briley said. “We’re lucky to have a working downtown, a college, the rivers and the festivals that drive in tourists, and people want to visit here because it’s safe and local and there’s things to do.”

As a downtown merchant with Schafer Leather, Briley said it is crucial to have storefronts and downtowns that are inviting, and as a volunteer with Marietta Main Street, Briley said she just does whatever she can to make Marietta a more beautiful place.

“It’s the volunteers that really make Marietta Main Street grow, because you can’t have it without them,” said Jean Farmer, executive director of the organization. “People like Karen are unsung heroes because they care about the downtown and feel responsible for it and for the community.”

Briley served on the board for ReStore Marietta, which went on to merge with Friends of Front Street and the Marietta Area Merchants Association before going on to become an official Main Street organization in 2013.

She also helps put up and take down American flags along lampposts, and has been instrumental in extending decor and beautification efforts past Front Street and into Harmar Village.

“It’s not about doing this because you’re a resident or doing it because you’re a business, it’s about doing it for Marietta,” she said. “We want to encourage people to take pride in the area.”

When it is not quite as warm out for festivals and spring flowers, Briley helps shoveling and winter weather efforts downtown and encourages other businesses to do the same.

Briley has been coordinating the Red, White and Blues festival for 20 years, and helped the efforts to make Marietta a Main Street community last summer, which opens the city up for new grants and funding opportunities to enhance the area.

“Regardless, this does not just take one person, it takes a whole community, and it’s all these organizations coming together that makes this all happen,” she said.