Love Notes Retrospective

by Tanya Zwahlen

Almost two years ago, in April 2013, I was one of 10-12 people that gave Pecha Kucha presentations at a Rochester Improvement Society event. It was a great event with lots of people talking about interesting projects. I discussed Young Lion. Two other speakers were Laura Fox and Ana Liss. Laura talked about Marty’s Meats and the food truck movement. Ana presented on behalf of the Monroe County Young Democrats.

My memory of that night is that the three of us connected after the presentations and agreed we needed to know one another. We made plans for drinks. Then dinner. Then Sunday brunch at my house. And so on.


After one particularly beautiful late autumn night on the patio at Cure, we decided we needed to collaborate on a project. At the time, I was heavily influenced by Peter Kageyama’s For the Love of Cities, which deconstructs what makes cities lovable and examines why we connect emotionally with some places and not others. And why that matters. Kageyama’s ideas aligned with our philosophy behind Young Lion, and the book includes many stories of ordinary citizens who go beyond typical levels of citizenship and do extraordinary things for their places – not because they are paid to, but because of their desire to make things happen.

Laura, Ana and I agreed that Rochester has a strange allure, but it gets a bad rap. We aren’t trying to ignore the disinvestment, blight and unemployment. But we decided that we needed to highlight the good things that are happening. We wanted to work on something that would help us all become more comfortable with and a little more open about how much we love our city.


Laura suggested a blog, like Philly Love Notes. Emma Fried-Cassorla, who started that project, writes that “there is too much in [Philadelphia] that is forgotten or overlooked. This site seeks to rediscover those places — to remind the city, and us, that it is loved.”

Yes. That. Exactly.

Once we decided to do it, Rochester Love Notes came together pretty quickly. We each wrote the first three letters (here’s mine), Ana’s sister developed an adorable logo, we set up a Twitter and an Instagram account.  And we started soliciting letters from our friends and colleagues.

We didn’t have to wait long before we started getting submissions. I was delighted to find that strangers were writing to us. And the letters were better than I hoped they would be.


Once we had momentum, the media noticed. Actually, truth be told, Ana made them notice. She is a #socialmediagenius.

We had a few news articles and television interviews.


Last summer, we organized a series called “Words on Walls” around the city using the industrial projector from Writers and Books. It was fun. I wrote a blog post about one of those.

We also realized that Rochester was missing some of her potential admirers (yes, she’s a girl) with our electronic submission requirement. So we printed 250 postcards and dropped them around town. The postcards have been trickling in to our office at the public market. They always brighten me up.

Here is our most recent one, which inspired this blog post. Short and sweet.



Since we started the blog in September 2013, Ana took a job in Albany as an Empire Fellow with Governor Cuomo. Laura bought a house, started a rooftop farming business, got engaged (on the rooftop farm), adopted a puppy, and started a new job as Vice President of the Rochester Downtown Development Corporation. I’m always doing something.

I wish we had more time to devote to it, but nonetheless, our collection of notes continues to grow. (Maybe you have a story to share?  Drop us a line.)  And our connection over this project has remained. We make a point to have dinner every few months. We have a date coming up next month. Which always results in a new idea…

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