Friday, July 12, 2024

From Cha Cha’s in Clifton to the Washington BID, the Musically Inspired Mel Thiel

June 12th Winner of the Mt. Olive Chamber 2024 Business Person of the Year Award

Mel Thiel photographed at a project of the BID: a lot where a building had burned down, was turned into Veterans Park. Photo by L. Ward.
Mel Thiel photographed at a project of the BID: a lot where a building had burned down which was then turned into Veterans Park. Photo by L. Ward.

Mel Thiel, per the chamber, “has significantly contributed to the growth and vitality of local businesses in Washington, and has also helped many of the local chamber businesses as well. Through offering essential resources and grants, Mel has played a pivotal role in enabling businesses to flourish. Her constant dedication to the business community by coordinating and running about 15 events annually, aimed at raising awareness and drawing attention to the businesses she helps in Washington.”

Asking Thiel about her involvement in the Blairstown Enhancement Committee she responds, “The thing that I like about Blairstown is that their business community is young, whereas our business community is on the older side. I like seeing how they do things. They get a lot of volunteers from their business community and they’re forward-thinking. The younger business owners’ motto is if we all work together, we will all succeed.”

Thiel graduated from Centenary University’s radio and television program and has a bachelor’s degree in communications with a concentration in radio and television.

“My career started out in radio,” she said. “I was a DJ at Centenary. I was the development director for the radio station WNTI, and I worked my way up to being part of management. I was very happy there. I would have stayed at Centenary, but they sold the license to the radio station to the University of Pennsylvania.”

“My family is all musical,” she said, explaining why she wanted to go into radio since childhood. “My father was a weekend drummer for over 40 years. All my aunts and uncles played in bands. My mother was a dance teacher. So, it was kind of like in my blood you could say.”

“The music business was always there. I took it for granted, I think,” Thiel continued. “My father would have a band job and my mother and I would always go. As far back as I can remember, I mean really young, I was going to bars and hearing the bands. It was just always there. And we also had a music studio in our house. We had a finished basement, and we never locked the back door of the house because someone was always coming in and out to teach. It was a school. We had little studios, little rooms for guitar lessons, and next door to drum lessons. So, there were always musicians coming in and out of the house, we were always surrounded by music.”

“My family business is my father, my aunt and my uncle’s Cha Cha Helens School of Music in Clifton,” explained Thiel.

Thiel’s High School Playlist

“The Moody Blues, big fan, Elvis Costello. I loved anything alternative,” she said. “I loved Patti Smith. I liked all the punk rock stuff, Ramones and Blondie. Blondie went to Centenary. Debbie Harry graduated when it was it was Centenary School for Women in 1965.”

“I like to see the businesses be happy and succeed,” Thiel said about what inspires her daily. “I will do whatever it takes to make sure a business doesn’t go out of business. Our best days are when there is an event in town.”

The Return of Riverfest

“I used to be involved in an event in Knowlton Township called Knowlton Riverfest,” Thiel said. “That event was always so well run and I was involved in that almost from the beginning. I volunteered every year. I think seven years.”

Riverfest stopped for a few years, so Thiel decided it would be her quest to bring back Riverfest.

“I went to everybody else’s festivals, whether it be a one-day event or two-day event or a three-day, and I always had a notebook with me and I wrote down what worked and what didn’t work,” she explained. “I kept track of all that for a full year. And I learned a lot. How easy was it to check in? Park. How was the seating? Was there a tent? And then I compiled it all and I said, you know what, we can do this. So, we brought back Riverfest under the blanket of WNTI and we called it WNTI Stage, and we did that for five years. We had a three-day music fest inside Knowlton, but instead of Hunters Lodge field, we partnered with the Knowlton Lions Club pavilion behind Smitty’s Liquors. And it worked out great.”

The most memorable Riverfest band for Thiel was the Slambovian Circus of Dreams.

“They’re kind of psychedelic, kind of hillbilly. They do all originals. And they have a great stage presence,” said Thiel. “You have to experience them. We’ve ended up becoming great friends. I’ve booked them here for Washington a few times. And they still play once a year, their Christmas show at Roy’s Hall in Blairstown. They are favorites for this area.”

Thiel hails from Clifton and moved to Belvidere in 1980. For the past 29 years, she has lived in Mount Bethel, Pennsylvania, just three miles from the bridge to Belvidere.

When asked what she has learned from the Washington BID and the Blairstown Enhancement Committee, Thiel said, “It is that a small group of people can have a very large impact on an area.”

For upcoming events in Washington visit

Laura Ward with long pink earrings on
Laura Ward, Contributing Writer

Laura Ward is a gallerist at Infloressense in Belvidere, NJ, whose motto is "poetic synthesis of all the cultural arts." Born in West Orange, NJ, Ward had a unique childhood growing up in a three-story, three-generation, 1895 Victorian where she learned gardening with her great-grandfather, theater with her grandmother, and typing with her mom. Ward spent the last two decades in the architectural design industry, followed by her present pursuit into the entrepreneurial world of art and event planning. Ward lives in the esoteric Delaware Village Historic District and volunteers at Ramsaysburg Historic Homestead. Ward spent 11 years in Florida where she graduated with an English B.A. from FAU and later The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale with an art history minor.