Get to know... Susan Cator
DARIEN — Susan Cator, the executive director and president of the Darien Chamber of Commerce, has lived in New York City, New Orleans and Seattle, but in 1992 chose Darien to settle down in.
“My family and I looked at a house here, a forever house, and we’ve been here ever since,” Cator said with a smile.
The Philadelphia native worked extensively in the magazine business, but prior to that, she was an undergraduate student at Tulane University in New Orleans. She double majored in biology and art in 1980, at first planning to pursue a career in medical illustrations, but opted for another route that took her to New York City after graduation.
Cator worked in an editorial role at Science Digest, a monthly magazine published from 1937 to 1986, though she admits that in a year’s time she realized an editorial position wasn’t exactly a fit.
“I switched to sales and my whole career was in magazine sales from then on,” the 59-year-old said.
Cator continued in the magazine business, eventually becoming the New York City sales manager for Better Homes and Gardens, which was then the fifth best-selling magazine in the country. Cator also worked for Advo Systems Inc., previously one of the largest direct mailers in the country, in Seattle and at Rodale Inc’s Prevention Magazine in New York City.
To learn more about the Darien Chamber of Commerce, visit: http://www.darienctchamber.com/
Cator ultimately left the magazine business when she had her first of three daughters. Her other two children, twins, are juniors at Darien High School.
The magazine industry has seen declining revenues from print advertising and Cator, who worked in the industry for over 10 years in the 1980s and early 1990s, is aware of the changes, though now as an observer, as opposed to a decision-maker.
“The magazine business has changed a lot,” Cator said. “Who would have ever known that digital media would have this type of effect?”
In 2007, Cator became the owner of New Neighbors, a welcoming service for incoming residents in Darien and New Canaan.
“We would help families adjust to their new towns by providing information on town services and non-profit programs,” Cator said.
In May 2014, Cator was appointed as the new executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, something she saw as a “great transition” following her experience in sales and activities in Darien and New Canaan.
“I enjoy meeting new people, making connections and seeing old friends,” Cator said. “That’s something I get to do at the chamber.”
When asked about how online retailers have affected brick-and-mortar shops in Darien, Cator recognized their ever-increasing presence, but assures that local businesses have found ways to adapt and to keep their clientele.
“Of course shopping online has changed shopping patterns,” Cator said. “But if you have a good product and you’re a savvy marketer and use the internet to be competitive, you can do just fine.”
Cator said local landlords have helped maintain the Darien business scene by having competitive, but affordable rent.
“Darien is very blessed with landlords,” Cator said. “I think one of the benefits about Darien is that landlords are committed to small business and have rents that are affordable so we can have a unique flavor to our town and keep our local shop owners.”
Regarding the upcoming development of the Noroton Heights Shopping Center and The Commons at Noroton Heights, Cator is excited about the opportunities these new locales will bring to the town.
“The trend nationally for these developments is to have a mix of businesses — from retail to commercial business to residential,” Cator said.
“Our downtown and shopping areas have a vibrancy to it that’s a local pride and it’s key to always stress the importance of supporting local business, as that supports our local nonprofits. Without a healthy local business environment, you don’t get donations to local non-profits.”