Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Meet Donna Flaherty: Business owner has fun while helping community

By: Alyssa Ochss | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published October 12, 2023


ST. CLAIR SHORES — Donna Flaherty helps out her community not for the recognition, but for the love of St. Clair Shores and the residents living there.

Flaherty, president of the Nautical Mile Merchants Association and the owner of Gifts Afloat, said she and a few others started the association in 1993. She’s been living in St. Clair Shores for 50 years but was originally born in the Upper Peninsula and came to the city to be a teacher.

“We initiated the idea of the Nautical Mile and then, of course, went through and had members join us,” Flaherty said. “And that’s how our association, the Nautical Mile Merchants Association, was created.”

The sole purpose of the association is for promotion of the businesses along the Nautical Mile, Flaherty said.

Flaherty has also been on the city’s Tax Increment Finance Authority board since the 1990s. TIFA developed the Nautical Mile, Flaherty said, through various projects and upgrades such as park benches, lamp posts, developing Wahby Park, the Festival of Lights and, most recently, the pier at Blossom Heath Park and other projects. She said she is happy with the developments over the years.

“Very happy, because people are happy,” Flaherty said. “They come in here and they tell me how much they enjoy it.”

She’s also been a part of the St. Clair Shores Memorial Day Parade Committee and the St. Clair Shores Goodfellows, a long time ago.

She is also the one who gathers information about all of the events on the Nautical Mile and writes it up in a brochure. There is a map of the Nautical Mile in the brochure, and she said every year, “Pure Michigan” calls her to ask when the brochure will be available. The brochures can be found in St. Clair Shores as well as the welcome centers along Interstate 75.

“So people pick them up, and I’ve had people walking in with this (brochure),” Flaherty said.

Flaherty said she doesn’t help her community out for recognition, and she doesn’t like talking about herself or bragging about what she does in St. Clair Shores. She wants to emphasize that she doesn’t do that work for herself but for the whole city.

“They’ll mention,” Flaherty said about people thanking her. “But I don’t look for thank yous. I’m just happy that it contributes to our St. Clair Shores. Beautiful community.”

She said getting involved in the association has been a lot of fun and that it is still fun.

“I enjoy the businesses. It’s like a small community, the businesses,” Flaherty said.  “And, again, I say they’re appreciative of keeping the association moving forward.”

The love she has for the community keeps her driven and involved.

“It’s been good,” Flaherty said. “I’ve raised my three boys here and, you know, we were involved with all the sports and all that over the years. Yeah, just love the community. That’s it.”

Flaherty said she’s made lifelong friends through her work going back about 40 years.

She would encourage others to get involved in their community, stating that it’s very gratifying and enjoyable.

“And we’re always looking for volunteers,” Flaherty said. “Throughout the community, there’s so many boards and so many activities and, definitely, I encourage them.”

Those looking to get involved in their community can look for publications such as newspapers. Flaherty said she was invited to get involved in her community.

“And that’s what we should do,” Flaherty said. “We should invite others to join.”

Flaherty said in a phone interview she would like to express an open invitation to volunteer and join commissions, committees and boards.

She’s made good memories along the way and reflects on them now.

“It was a journey, you know, and you meet all these people,” Flaherty said. “It’s been fun. Work, but fun.”

This article is part of an ongoing series recognizing individuals who volunteer or do a lot for the St. Clair Shores community. Do you know someone who should be featured? Email Alyssa Ochss at or call her at (586) 498-1103.