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Shawn O'Hara

Interview No. 55

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We’re an optimistic bunch of people! We’re always looking to do better.

Where are you originally from? Why did you move to Rochester?

I’m from a small town in central New York, north of Binghamton. I moved to Rochester because I had a lot of friends in the area. I had been living in Burlington, Vermont at the time, and Rochester was meant to be a stepping-stone before moving to a larger city. I ended up staying for 8 years! It was mostly school that made me stay—I went to RIT.

What is your favorite part of living in Rochester?

The beauty of the city—the architecture. In my final year at RIT, I took an architectural design course. You had to find and document different styles of architecture and they’re all here! Plus, there are so many arts and cultural activities and music here.

Do you have any favorite or secret Rochester spots?

Downtown is really my favorite spot—either Ugly Duck or Fuego. I love just walking around and taking photos, going wherever my eye takes me.

What's the coolest event you've ever gone to in Rochester?

Second Storie, an indie craft fair at the Visual Studies Workshop, is one that really stands out for me. The whole indie maker movement thing was just starting. I was so inspired by the Rochester one that I organized my own version of it in Binghamton for a few years!

Do you have a favorite charity/nonprofit that you like to support?

I lived in the 19th Ward for awhile, and found the 19th Ward Community Association to be a really great organization to support. They’re very community-minded. I started a website called Location 19 to connect neighbors, and it’s still going!

Describe your dream Rochester day.

A typical Saturday—getting up early and heading to the Public Market to have coffee and a pastry at one of the shops, then do some shopping. Afterwards, I’d go downtown, take some photos, and hang out at a coffee shop. I’d have dinner downtown, then catch a movie at the Little or an art opening.

Do you have a favorite neighborhood?

Center City—I just love it. The tall buildings, the river, everything else down there. Park Ave and NOTA are up there too—so walkable!

Awhile back, I ran into Tanvi Asher, owner of Peppermint. We went to school together, and when I found out she had opened her own shop, my first thought was, “That’s so Rochester!”

Favorite coffee shop?

Fuego, Ugly Duck, or Glen Edith.

Favorite restaurant?

The Owl House. I don’t eat a lot of meat, just chicken and fish, but their food is amazing! It’s a creative, cool place. I also went to Orbs recently for the first time and had a really good experience!

What's your personal coping method for cold/gray weather?

Coffee houses! It gets me through. The Public Market too—it’s nice to see fruits and vegetables in all seasons. I also try to take in a lot of artwork—I’ll go to the MAG and other art shows a lot in the winter.

What is your favorite Rochester memory?

The first time I drove into Rochester—I remember it so vividly! I was turning off 490 and onto Monroe—we saw the library there, turned onto Canterbury, and headed through Park Ave and saw all the trees—the trees! They really struck me. I still feel that affection today.

What makes Rochester unique?

We’re an optimistic bunch of people! We’re always looking to do better. It’s an entrepreneurial sense, almost! Where I’m from is very rural and very poor, and it seems that people are always wondering what the government can do for them. In Rochester, though, we make things happen. Like the Inner Loop—it’s actually being filled in now! We make choices and we get stuff done.

Awhile back, I ran into Tanvi Asher, owner of Peppermint. We went to school together, and when I found out she had opened her own shop, my first thought was, “That’s so Rochester!”

What do you think could be improved?

I’d like to see our poorer neighborhoods lifted up. I see the disparities between different parts of the community and I wish we could do more. For example, locating jobs in the neighborhoods where people need employment opportunities most. And programs that can help people buy houses in those areas. Better public transportation would also be huge.

If Rochester were a drink, what would it be?

A double espresso—kind of sweet and creamy at first, but definitely strong and tasty. If you let it sit too long, though, it can get a slightly bitter taste to it.

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Shawn O'Hara is an interior designer and admitted coffee addict. See more of Shawn's perspective on our Instagram.