Jane Walsh was an entrepreneur before it was a buzz word, opening Red Fish Blue Fish, a novelty and gift shop on Hyannis Main Street in 1993. She has also exhibited her continued dedication to downtown Hyannis, as it suffered the impacts of the opening on national chain stores, and has played a huge role in its revitalization over the past decade, most recently starting a popular shoulder season community event Hyannis Open Streets. We chatted with Jane about her years in business and
Can you tell us about your connection to Cape Cod?
My connection to Cape Cod is my family, my roots, and my community. My parents were children of immigrants who met at Barnstable High School. My mother’s and father’s parents came from the Azores and Ireland with their families and settled in Cotuit and Centerville. I grew up in a house on property in Centerville that had been owned by my great grandfather and was surrounded by my father’s relatives. I also spent a lot of time with my mother’s parents and relatives in Cotuit. I am a townie. It wasn’t until after traveling a lot in my twenties, that I really appreciated the relationships I had and the beauty of the Cape. It was hiding in plain sight. I guess you can say I started out here by default but ended up here by choice.
You opened Red Fish Blue Fish on Hyannis Main Street in 1993 – what motivated you to do that?
My need to travel motivated me to start my business. I wanted to take advantage of the boom and bust tourist economy here. I wanted to travel on the off season. The location was easy; I had worked at various shops on Main Street as a teen and loved the old school downtown feel of it. I had an apartment on Main Street above a store I had worked at as a teen. I’ve always loved the vibe of Main Street, Hyannis. The type of business was easy because I was familiar with working retail and I had a lot of artist friends who were looking for outlets for their work. It happened really quickly when I saw a “For Rent” sign in the window while walking to my waitressing job at the other end of Main Street.
What would you say is the best and the hardest thing about owning a retail store on Cape Cod?
The best thing about owning a retail store on Cape Cod is building relationships with customers old and new and fellow business owners. I meet people every day and they are usually at their best, on vacation, buying a gift for a happy occasion, or just strolling Main Street for fun. I have relationships with people who have been doing one or all of those things for 25 years. I could never have had so many wonderful interactions doing that somewhere other than here.
The worst thing is the boom and bust economy. Now that I’m a mother and home owner, I need a little more to live on year round. It’s like being on a see-saw or rollercoaster managing the yearly budget. The Cape is also not impervious to hurricanes, Nor’Easters, and blizzards. None of which are good for my business. Maybe I should start selling shovels and sand bags!
You are also an artist. How has that aspect of your career evolved over the years?
The artistic aspect of my career has changed a lot since the beginning. I was making a lot of blown glass jewelry in the window of my shop for the first 13 years but I slowed way down after I had my daughter. I am lucky to have an accomplished glassblower, Sayuri Kingsbury, working with me in the store as well as blowing glass in the window.
You also started Hyannis Open Streets two years ago – how did that happen?
I started Hyannis Open Streets out of a need to bring people together, build community, tolerance, and try and show people the Main Street, Hyannis that I know and love. It was something that I had wanted to do for a long time but never took action. The last presidential election was so divisive it really made me push harder for it. Street festivals were a thing on Main Street when I was a kid and even in the 90’s for a bit. I saw how powerful that was in bringing people together. After convincing some community leaders from the Hyannis Main Street BID, The Greater Hyannis Civic Association, and the Greater Hyannis Chamber of Commerce the value of this simple idea, a committee was formed and we made it happen. After 8 Hyannis Open Streets, I couldn’t be happier with the feedback, stories, and smiles I’ve encountered. It has turned out to be one of the most rewarding things I have ever been a part of.
Describe your perfect Cape Cod day.
I love the summer here. It is by far, my favorite time of the year to be on Cape Cod. I actually don’t even mind the traffic. My perfect day is every day here on Cape Cod in the summer. But an extra special day might start with a walk with my daughter and my dogs through the beachfront cottage communities on the way to get fresh baked muffins and coffee and then walking back and sitting out under the awning of my trailer saying hello to passers-by. Then, I might spend a couple of hours at the beach taking some nice long relaxing floats in the ocean and then grab a lobster roll somewhere headed to P-Town. I’d stop in Wellfleet and check out my friend Steve Swain’s place, the Frying Pan Gallery. He was one of the original artists who sold work at Red Fish Blue Fish. I’d have lobster and steamer at the Lobster Pot then walk Commercial Street all the way to the Coast Guard Station and check out the shops, galleries, gardens and architecture. I’d visit my friend Pauline who owns a great store called M.A.P. and then go dancing at the A-House and have a drink under the whale ribs out at their Tiki bar. I think I might have to make that happen!
You can connect with Jane at her shop located at 372 Main Street, Hyannis or head to Hyannis Open Streets this fall on September 23 and October 21.