By CYNTHIA ROBERTSON
It’s always a joy to reconnect with friends from our past. Just two months ago, I had that experience when I walked into O’Connor’s Church Supply in Grantville. Jacquelyn O’Connor, known by her friends as “Jackie,” was every bit as elegant and charming as I had remembered when I worked with her in the early 2000s. Back then, she was president of the El Cajon Boulevard Business Improvement District where her shop was formerly located.
It was a pleasure to greet her after all these years. We talked as if no time had passed. I walked around the shop, smelling the fragrant candles, not overpowering, but a gentle presence, rather like O’Connor herself. Quiet music played in the background as I gazed at books, collectibles, art, religious objects and furniture. I had always wondered what made O’Connor so successful in both her personal and business life, and I was determined to find out.
I asked what her secret was that she could pass on to other women who have similar hopes. She answered, “If you can run your personal life in an orderly manner, you can achieve anything you want to.”
As a schoolgirl at Blessed Sacrament Elementary and Crawford High, O’Connor had not dreamed of having her own business and becoming a role model in the business community. As with most young women at the time, she was happy simply to marry and have a family. But she suddenly became the head of her family of two teenagers and a 6-year-old when her husband passed away in 1987. To help preserve the business, O’Connor purchased the building from her father-in-law. With that purchase, she officially entered the business world full-time.
“It was a change for my family not to have their mom at home. However, I had support from my family that was so helpful,” she said. “My daughter, son and brother have assisted in so many ways throughout the years, in addition to great staff people who have really blessed us with their abilities and loyalty.”
Before O’Connor relocated her business to its current location, it had been in East San Diego’s neighborhood of City Heights since 1965.
“We had an opportunity to sell our building to Jay Wence, the owner of the Lafayette Hotel, to use the tax credits to build a trade school for the community,” O’Connor explained.
She chose the new Grantville location for the business after the sale of the building on El Cajon Boulevard. It was close to the old location, and there was plenty of parking and good retail space in a safe, clean area.
Customers at the store now include her previous following of customers, along with neighborhood people and clergy.
“We not only service the Catholic faith, we also serve the other major religious communities,” said O’Connor.
Nowadays, O’Connor has more customers who want to add an inspirational theme to their home, more so than in the past. People also often prefer to shop online rather than coming into the shop.
“Fortunately, my son, and brother have kept up with the online shopping opportunities for our store. I feel it is a necessity in today’s world to participate and offer this type of service,” she said.
A typical day for O’Connor includes opening the store at 8:30 a.m. and doing the bookkeeping. “There are always meetings, projects, customers, thinking, planning, and enjoying it all with my friends, employees and family,” she said.
Becoming a savvy businesswoman over the years, O’Connor helped form the Business Improvement District Council in 1991, serving as its first president. She initiated change for public improvements to El Cajon Boulevard, resulting in nearly three miles of new landscaped medians and the installation of more than 100 streetlights.
In 1991, Mayor Susan Golding recognized O’Connor’s ingenuity, appointing her to lead the Economic Retention Task Force. With great foresight, O’Connor recommended the formation of the city of San Diego’s Office of Small Business.
O’Connor was recognized by the Mid-City Chamber of Commerce as its 1991 Citizen of the Year, the city of San Diego’s Office of Small Business as its 1997 Business of the Year, and she is a recipient of the Community Leadership Award from the California State Assembly.
Yet for all these accomplishments, O’Connor defers to the aid and advice of people she has worked with.
“I have had the pleasure of working and learning almost everything I know about working in the community,” she said.
In particular, O’Connor gives high praise to Gary Weber, a land use planner. “He was my mentor and I have been honored to work with him to assist in the business community. All credit given me would not be possible without his influence,” she said.
The surprise of a lifetime came when she received a special honor four years ago from the city of San Diego — a day named after her, Nov. 3. On that day, she entered the City Council room and, to her amazement, saw many of her personal and business friends gathered in the room. They were there to congratulate her on a job well done and the Community Service Award from the city for her service to the business districts.
“Following the event, my family hosted a luncheon at the Lafayette Hotel with family and friends. Each year on Nov. 3, my family celebrates this like an anniversary, with a nice dinner. I am so blessed,” O’Connor said.
But she does not rest on her laurels, never has. Currently, O’Connor is president emeritus for the El Cajon Boulevard Business Improvement District and also its representative to the Business Improvement District Alliance. In Del Cerro, where O’Connor resides, she helped form The Friends of Del Cerro, a neighborhood nonprofit organization whose goal is to achieve beautification, safety and cohesiveness in the neighborhood. The group is currently working with SDSU on Adobe Falls Canyon and surrounding areas.
Business is not the only place O’Connor finds community. She is working on a memory book for her elementary school reunion. O’Connor had bumped into an old friend while out shopping. They began reminiscing about their schoolgirl days and determined that they should all come together again.
“We have become so motivated by the joy people seem to share about the reunion that we are planning. Sharing their biographies, photos, and fun memories has been a great way to reestablish our friendships,” she said.
When O’Connor isn’t busy at the shop or working on her book, she enjoys cooking, sewing, and most of all, being with her family, especially her three granddaughters and one grandson.
In her own way, O’Connor has broken through a glass ceiling. Through sheer motivation and devotion to her family and the community, she is a top-notch business leader in every way imaginable. Her grace, poise and pleasantness create an immediate bond with people, just as with me when I first met her 22 years ago.
A quote by Margaret Mead sums up O’Connor’s philosophy on doing business in the community: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
O’Connor’s Church Supply is located at 4780 Mission Gorge Place #F, San Diego, CA 92120.
— Cynthia Robertson has been a local freelance writer and photographer for more than 30 years. She is also the author of a novel, ‘Where You See Forever.’ Her website is cynthiarobertson.com.