David Olshanksy Talks Gaslight Festival, Jeffersontown Historical Museum & Shop of Shops
Writer / Shannon Siders
How did one of Jeffersontown’s most involved community members wind up here in the early 1970’s all the way from Detroit? The short answer — life insurance and sidewalks.
David Olshansky — former city council member, former executive director of the Jeffersontown Historical Museum, and current entrepreneur — relocated his family to Louisville in September 1970 to manage the Union Central insurance company’s Kentucky and Southern Indiana region.
Despite knowing nothing about Louisville, Olshansky was drawn to the city after some initial research and a two-day visit.
“I went to the library and got a book out so I could learn about Louisville,” Olshansky says. “I wound up knowing more about Louisville than anybody in Louisville.”
After living in St. Matthews for a couple of years, the Olshanskys became the fourth family to move into Plainview in March 1973.
“The kids were young, and I didn’t really want an area without sidewalks, so that began to eliminate a bunch of suburban areas here,” Olshansky says.
The Plainview construction included sidewalks, so the neighborhood became the family’s new home. Despite an opportunity to relocate to Long Island a few years later, Olshansky decided to stay put in Jeffersontown. He moved a few more times after 1973, but remained in Plainview.
Within a year, Olshansky was elected president of the Plainview Residents’ Association. He was already president of two professional organizations and was managing a rapidly growing life insurance office.
“When the neighborhood is brand new, who else is going to volunteer except the 11 people there?” says Olshansky of his unexpected entrance into local politics.
Because of his popularity in neighborhood politics, Olshansky received a call from Jeffersontown’s city attorney a couple years later to gauge his interest in running for city council. That call led to a nearly quarter century stint with city council as Olshansky continued to be re-elected to the post.
“I was reluctant at first, but after I got involved I was really enjoying it,” Olshansky says.
He went on to become a council member on the executive board on the chamber of commerce, and worked with the chamber to improve the Gaslight Festival.
“I was making little changes, then I became the chairman of the Gaslight Festival, and that’s when I really made some changes,” says Olshansky, who transformed the three-day festival into the week-long affair it is today.
Olshansky ran the Gaslight Festival for three years before moving on to other projects. Around the same time, he went through a divorce with his wife of 18 years.
“I didn’t have much left, so I started all over again,” he says.
Nearly three years later, Olshansky married again.
“Rita worked at City Hall, and she was the treasurer of the city,” says Olshansky of his wife of 34 years. “I was always looking for money, so I was always in contact with her.”
In the following years, Olshansky took on several other roles with the city. He served as director of economic development for nearly five years, working closely with realtors and networking to create beneficial relationships for the city.
“Anytime someone came to town looking for a spot for their business, I’d hustle over there and show it to them,” Olshansky says. One of his deals brought 100 jobs to the city in just the first year.
Following that project, he took on the challenge of creating the Jeffersontown Historical Museum and was appointed executive director of the museum in 1997.
Olshansky, who has a background in woodworking and had aspirations to be an industrial arts teacher in college, was an integral part of building the museum from the ground up.
“I made it a walk through time with the city, from when it was just formed in 1797 with a general store and an old time cash register,” Olshansky says. “People started finding out about it, and we weren’t even open yet. They started bringing items in for us to use.”
With the renewed interest in the city’s history, Olshansky brought on some students from Jeffersontown High School to help document and catalog all of the new items. Support the community, including a dedicated team of volunteers, helped launch the museum at a successful grand opening.
“It was a collective effort from a lot of people,” Olshansky says. “Many of whom are still involved with the museum, so that’s a tribute to it.”
In 1999, Olshansky retired. Rita had retired earlier in the year, and Olshansky spent his final drive home from work contemplating how he would spend his time in retirement.
“I walk in the door that night, and Rita said, ‘Don’t sit down, I’m tired of sitting around, let’s go!’ And we’ve been going ever since,” he says. “I think she’s keeping me young.”
Stir crazy with their unlimited amount of free time, the Olshanskys departed on what has been a decade-plus journey in the retail industry. After running a consignment shop on Lyndon Lane for a couple years, they opened a store in St. Matthews that included a restaurant. The St. Matthews store lasted about three years until they sold the building in December 2015 due to parking issues at the venue.
Olshansky thought they were out of the retail business for good, but less than a year later the couple was checking out the site of their latest venture, Shop of Shops. Although the new location was three times the size of their last store, they pounced on the opportunity.
The Olshanskys unveiled Shop of Shops in December 2016. The vendor’s mall, located at 10105 Taylorsville Road, has about 90 vendors featuring a diverse range of offerings.
Despite a double knee replacement, 77-year-old Olshansky stays busier than people half his age.
“I’m only at the store Monday through Sunday,” joked Olshansky about his schedule. “Since September, when we bought the store, we’ve had maybe a week off total.”
Then again, down time has never really been his thing.
“I really wonder, if I had time off, could I stand it?” Olshansky says. “We do have a pool in the backyard. I know I would get out there and at least get a toe wet.”
During the holidays, Olshansky has even been moonlighting as Santa Claus for various events and gatherings the past several years. The resemblance is something that doesn’t go unnoticed, especially as the temperature starts to drop and December comes around.
So what’s next for Olshansky?
“There’s still some things I’d like to do that I never got around to,” Olshansky says. “I’d love to have gone to Hawaii. I want to go to the Newport Aquarium. I haven’t gone, and it’s right there. All in all, if I died tomorrow, I would not have one single regret.”