Reilly Johnson had a degree of familiarity with Anniston before taking a position as the city’s Main Street director.
She was born here and went to school here until she moved to Gadsden in her sophomore year of high school. Her grandfather owns Alabama Specialty Products in Munford and her father works for M&H Valve.
“This has always been home,” she said.
Johnson graduated from the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a degree in journalism in 2013 and later worked as an admissions counselor there. She also earned a master’s degree in public administration while working for UAB.
During her time in Birmingham, she got to witness a revitalization of the city’s downtown area, including the opening of Railroad Park.
Later on, Johnson would get to have a hand in that revitalization in the two years she worked with Appleseed Workshop, an architecture and design firm that specializes in renovation and reuse of historic buildings.
Johnson said Appleseed built nine of the 11 food stalls in the Pizitz Food Hall in downtown Birmingham.
Main Street Anniston is part of the National Main Street program, an initiative to revitalize America’s downtown areas and preserve their history. The program started 30 years ago and now has more than 1,600 participating communities.
Asked what she hopes to accomplish as Anniston’s Main Street director, Johnson said she wants to help get all of the stakeholders in the community on the same page in terms of downtown redevelopment. She also said she wants to foster relationships with current downtown businesses so that they’re set up for success.
As an example, she said the city could work with the local Small Business Development Center to make sure downtown tenants have the best business plans they can.
Johnson takes her position after former director Meredith Strain resigned in September 2017. At the time, Strain told The Star that she left to focus on her family, and that she planned to continue working with Main Street as a volunteer.
The Main Street Anniston director position was redefined in early 2016 to include a larger scope of economic development work, but after Strain left, city officials decided to remove that added responsibility.
Toby Bennington, director of economic development and city planning for Anniston, said with that change and Johnson’s level of experience, he’s “extremely confident the city is now afforded the ability to have a true focus on the Main Street program.”