Homegrown Hero: Spotlight on Sue Nicholson and Building Business Downtown

May 4th, 2015

This blog post is the 4th installment in a series of pieces celebrating local heroes. They may not wear capes, star in world news, or have a clothing brand named after them, but it’s important to recognize the people who work both behind the scenes and in front of the camera to keep our beautiful, historic small town a top place in Canada to start & grow a small business, and a world class tourist destination.  Sue Nicholson is one of these people.

Growing up on South Georgian Bay, Sue Nicholson spent her time outside of school on Hurontario Street, where her father owned and operated an independent business called Georgian Bay Upholstering (where Mad Dog Vinyl Café is now). Sue now works on Hurontario Street as General Manager of the Downtown BIA, where she works tirelessly to support and promote small independent businesses like her dad’s.

Sue still has strong, personal ties to small business: her husband Bill, a 6th generation carpenter, has run an independent contractor business for years.  Their son carries on the family legacy as the 7th generation carpenter in the Nicholson family.

On Being a Role Model

Sue completed a BA in English and French literature at the University of Toronto before moving back to Georgian Bay to work for the Enterprise-Bulletin. At the EB, Sue did anything and everything from photographing events to typing up copy, stuffing papers and making sales. She found her niche in advertising and became one of first woman Advertising Managers in the company. Shortly thereafter, she became the first pregnant Ad Manager.

As a mother of two, and a soon-to-be grandmother of two, Sue has been a role model for her family. On top of that, she is a role model for young business women in our community. As a trailblazer in a traditionally male-dominated field, Sue has proven that a woman can be both a successful business professional and a mother, without sacrificing one for the other.

In 1994, Sue took on the joint position of Manager for the Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown BIA, juggling 2 boards of directors and numerous stakeholders’ needs. With decades of experience, Sue brings knowledge, energy and passion to her current role as Manager of the Downtown BIA.

Love Local, Live Local

Sue tells us that she was raised on an “if you couldn’t buy it locally, you didn’t buy it,” mentality. Her family has always supported local businesses in Collingwood, and anyone who knows her personally knows never to make the faux pas of mentioning Costco in her presence. She can tell you about all the downtown businesses, their products and services, and why local businesses are the heart and bloodstream of our community.

Sue’s initiatives to promote buying local include Eat Local projects, such as the ever-growing Collingwood Downtown Farmers’ Market, and the Local Live Lunch series, which pairs live music with a local food producer and a local chef to deliver a delightful lunching experience every Wednesday at Sheffer Court, in July and August. Sue works closely with the Town of Collingwood to deliver numerous festivals & events that promote local artisans, shopkeepers, and services, including Art on the Street, the Collingwood Festival for Canada, and Collingwood’s Ice Sculpture Festival & Winter Wonderland. Her work to restore the downtown to its original, historic glory has made Collingwood downtown one of the prime tourist destinations in Ontario.

This year, she is working with Tale of a Town to deliver a fantastic dramatic performance that tells our story through a creative and engaging show. She is also working with the Town of Collingwood to deliver a new event, the Sidelaunch Days Harbour Festival, which celebrates Collingwood’s shipbuilding past and its wonderful, activity-filled harbourfront present.

A Collingwood Romance

Of Bill, her husband for nearly 40 years, Sue remarks that “Canadian Mist Distillers brought us together. The company Bill’s dad worked for was contracted to build the plant in the late 60s, so the family moved to Collingwood. And the rest, as they say, is history.”

High school sweethearts, Sue and Bill continued their relationship long-distance during university, since Sue was at U of T and Bill was at York. One of their most important relationships was, of course, with the Jane bus that ferried them back and forth. At the age of 23 they were married, and together have helped build Collingwood- both physically and metaphorically- into the bustling, thriving community it is today.

Things You Didn’t Know About Sue:

  • Sue loves reading mystery novels
  • Sue is a Public Member of the Canadian Register of Health Service Psychologists
  • Sue is Past President of the Ontario BIA Association Board
  • Sue has a little mastiff/lab mix named Cocoa, and an orange cat named Pumpkin
  • Sue enjoys boating (that is, reading on a boat while Bill fishes)

When asked about her work, Sue tells us that the most rewarding aspect of her position is being involved in the community and organizing festivals and events. Not only does she enjoy being connected with the Collingwood people, she also loves meeting visitors from across the continent. Although we picture her in her office working on grant applications and promotional campaigns, Sue can also be found setting up events at 6 a.m. (as the Easter Bunny or Mrs. Claus), picking up garbage to keep the streets beautiful, managing finances, and engaging local business owners downtown.

Sue can be found at the Business Development Centre at 105 Hurontario Street.


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