It’s no surprise, then, that Coviello was named 2021 President of the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce, where she has been a member for more than 30 years. She will be the second president from Essex in the Chamber’s 99-year history.
“Susan is all about getting things done,” said Chamber CEO Ken Riehl, a fellow Essex resident. “This is an exciting and challenging year for the Chamber and our Cape Ann community as we recover from the pandemic, and Susan is the perfect person to lead through these tumultuous seas to calmer waters.”
Coviello has a history of stepping into leadership roles where she ensured growth and expansion. When she joined her husband Bob Coviello in his antique business, Main Street Antiques in Essex, she expanded into vintage clothing and textiles. The couple added a second, antique and gift shop at the corner of Southern Avenue and Main Street, Joshua’s Corner, which she ran for 20 years. In 1998, Coviello joined the Essex School Committee and helped navigate regionalization with Manchester, serving on the new school board for eight years, including as chairman. In 2008 she was elected to the Board of Selectmen and worked on spotlight initiatives like resetting the town’s ownership of Conomo Point after 100 years and helping to save and restore the old Town Hall and TOPH Burnham Public Library, a critical historic (and now operational) gem.
“It was exciting,” she said about regionalization and the Conomo Point work. “These things were challenging, and it was incredible working alongside great people to get them done.”
In 2013, after selling the Joshua’s Corner building, Coviello pivoted to become executive director of a small nonprofit in Gloucester, the North Shore Health Project. With critical support from Massachusetts State Sen. Bruce Tarr and Rep. Ann Margaret Ferrante, Coviello expanded NSHP from a three-person organization focused on support for those living with HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C, to addressing the need for overdose prevention in the Cape Ann area. Under her watch, NSHP today has a staff of 10 and has become a model for harm prevention, doubling its clientele and creating one of the state’s first needle exchange programs, providing sexually transmitted disease testing and establishing a NARCAN distribution resource for people who use drugs and their families.
Through all of this, Chamber has been a constant for Coviello. She’s served on its board, as the head of the Chamber Essex Division and managed popular events like Essex Clamfest. Five years ago, when Cape Ann Plein Air (CAPA) was incubated by the Chamber. Coviello ended up at the helm in 2018, helping it become one of the nation’s premier competitive outdoor art events drawing plein air painters from as far as Russia and Canada and drawing thousands of visitors to Cape Ann.
The Chamber’s membership profile is varied, reflecting Cape Ann’s unique mix of organizations. There are a lot of nonprofits (community, arts, historical institutions) mixed with a wide spectrum of businesses from established companies to younger ones, retail to service organizations, tourism, restaurants, entertainment, industrial and even manufacturing and digital agencies. Under Ken Riehl, the Chamber has grown to more than 1,000 members and is now one of the largest Chambers in all of Massachusetts.
The last year has been a challenge for local businesses and retailers, and the Chamber has stepped in to provide networking and evolve into a grants-and-pandemic-information clearing house for members while tightening its own belt. Riehl even temporarily cut his salary to help the organization manage through the disruption. (This month, the Chamber board voted to reinstall his full compensation, signaling confidence in the future.)
Incoming Chamber presidents often decide on a focus or accomplishment for their one-year term. For Coviello, 2021 will be about “transition.” She says she wants to make the Chamber attractive to younger members and set the tone from what was to what will be. That means taking a fresh look at programs like Chamber’s Annual Gala, which is a January formal dinner. This year, because of COVID that dinner has been recast and rescheduled as an outdoor barbeque on June 18. Coviello is pushing to make that change permanent.
“We should be doing more things like that,” she said, and points to other Chamber events like Small Business Week, held every fall, as candidates for a similar refresh.
Coviello jokingly says she wants to be, “the last 64-year-old Chamber president.” She means it. She wants to be a bridge. Besides working with the Chamber executive team and the Board of Directors, Coviello will work with Chamber vice president Caitlin Pszenny, the 30-something year old general manager and partner of Cape Ann Lanes, who not only is the Chamber’s Next Gen Division head but who is next in line to be president in 2022, succeeding Coviello.
Development. Expansion. Growth. There Coviello goes again, getting things done.