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Will biz spring this season?

By Staff | Mar 20, 2009

Shepherdstown Business Association President Meredith Wait

Daffodils are popping up, and familiar faces are once more roaming the streets gleefully. With spring’s arrival, downtown Shepherdstown business owners have their fingers crossed that a more steady flow of patrons will meander their way to their stoops.

Historically, with the onset of spring comes more foot traffic, which usually means more business for all town shops, eateries and bars. It’s no secret, however, that empty storefronts have been more visible than ever on German Street.

Some shops are visibly doing better than others. Yet with shorter hours and fewer open-for-business days, many Shepherdstown shops are definitely changing with the downturn, largely due to a new sales reality.

In September 2008, five downtown shops closed their doors forever. Included in this mass exodus were the J. Cooper Gallery, Mimi’s ice cream, Outback Basics outdoor equipment shop, and the Ricco Gallery.

But before we doom the rest, we must take a closer look around, business leaders say. That same September, four brand new downtown shops opened. And many businesses that have left town closed for different reasons, not all financial.

Buying locally is taking on a completely new meaning for locals and shop owners alike. It’s no longer thought of as just a nice thing to do when it comes to mind, but literally the lifeblood for so many.

“It’s not a gimme that German Street will always be what it’s been,” pointed out Shepherdstown Business Association President Meredith Wait. “It’s going to take all of us [business owners and employees] to make it work.” Wait owns the 19-year-old craft destination Dickinson & Wait Gallery at 121 E. German St.

Town shop owners realize that in this economic climate anything can happen, Wait notes. Business operators are taking measures to ensure their continued existence. They are emphasizing the importance of getting back to basic sound business practices, the value of good customer service, and nurturing those relationships. Wait said she is hopeful that spring will bring good things and feels the Streetscape Improvement Project will ultimately enhance business overall.

The Shepherdstown Business Association had a special tax law speaker at its meeting Thursday night, March 5, at the Entler, to help owners learn the best ways of dealing with their inflating tax assessments. The SBA is coming up with various new methods of supporting the entire business community.

Wait pointed out that Shepherd University has extended an interested hand. Shepherd graphic design students are getting involved by helping design a new branding symbol for the town businesses as a whole. Wait said that she feels that since her arrival in Shepherdstown, Shepherd President Dr. Suzanne Shipley has “made a great effort.” Wait said that she is appreciative of the interest Shipley has shown in the success of town businesses, and emphasized the importance of town-gown relations staying positive and mutually supportive.

The true test of the spring business upswing theory is here.

Whether you’re stomach’s in need of a home cooked meal, or you just need a good read, Shepherdstown will have what you’re looking for, business owners say.

Fresh local produce at the Sunday Farmers Market and countless other goodies will again be available beginning Sunday, April 5, on King Street behind the Shepherdstown Public Library.