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Some still invest downtown

January 11, 2002

Some still invest downtown



By RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer, Waynesboro


WAYNESBORO, PA. - Waynesboro, like many once bustling small towns, has seen its retail core shrink over the years as stores and shoppers moved from the downtown to malls on the outskirts.

Most business owners and officials interviewed Wednesday said the day when Waynesboro was a retail hub is long past.

Still, some entrepreneurs have faith that they can do well downtown with the right mix of stores and restaurants.

"Downtown is the place to be. There's a lot of traffic there," said Alberto Calderon, owner of Little Italy's, a pizza, Italian and Mexican restaurant on Pen Mar Road in Rouzerville, Pa., a village west of Waynesboro.

Calderon also owns a store in the Wayne Heights Mall and plans to open a third restaurant on the square in Waynesboro this spring at 5 and 7 E. Main St. One is occupied by Romeo's Pizza and one was recently vacated by Mark Smith, owner of Smitty's TV and VCR.

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Romeo's is closing after many years on the square and Smith moved his shop two doors down to 3 E. Main St.

Up the street at 39-43 East Main, Donna Harbaugh, owner of Harbaugh's Hardware, a store that has been in the same spot for more than 50 years, is also expanding.

She bought the business four years ago from LeCron Harbaugh, her father-in-law. Harbaugh's, in addition to hardware, had for years sold official Boy Scout and Girl Scout uniforms, supplies and equipment from a small room in back.

On Wednesday, Donna Harbaugh was busy setting up her newly expanded space formerly occupied by an H&R Block tax office adjacent to the hardware store. It has new ceilings, carpet, and walls of pegboards that hold Scout uniforms, badges, patches, handbooks, crafts and camping supplies.

A wide doorway connects the Scouting store to the main hardware store.

"I've been working on this for several months," Harbaugh said. "There was no room to spread out in the back room. Much of it was in boxes. Now it's all on display. People can help themselves."

Harbaugh thinks Waynesboro is a good place to do business. "We've survived through a lot. This store's been here a long time," she said.

The move out to the Waynesboro Mall last summer by Savage-Minnich's Pharmacy, a Waynesboro landmark for decades, was seen by some as a setback for the downtown. The store at 52-54 W. Main St. stayed empty until two weeks ago when Helen Carper opened Helen's Antiques and Collectibles at the addresses.

She and her husband moved to Waynesboro last fall from Lothian, Md.

"We thought it was a perfect little town for something like this. We already bought a house," she said.

Carper is enthusiastic but realistic about the store's chances of survival. "We've been doing OK so far, but downtown would be better off if more stores moved in."

Waynesboro's downtown business district, from Walnut Street on the west to Potomac Street on the east, has about 30 store fronts. About one-third are empty.

"It's a constant struggle to keep stores downtown," said Carol Henicle, executive director of the Greater Waynesboro Chamber of Commerce.

"A couple of new stores will move in and one will make it and one won't. Specialty stores like Total Vac do well," she said.

Total Vac is at 36 W. Main St.

Henicle predicted that downtown retailers will do better in the future because the area's population is growing.

"Rents are cheap and that makes it easier for people with a dream of having their own business to get started," she said.

John Leos, owner of the Candy Kitchen on the square, is optimistic about Waynesboro's future.

"It's looking better. It's on the way up. This is the most affordable community in the Tri-State area," he said. "The buildings in downtown Waynesboro are old, historic and ... they won't get any cheaper than they are now. Now's the time to get in on the ground floor."

Leos' reference to Waynesboro's historic past could soon become a touchy subject for the community to consider. The Waynesboro Historical Society is starting an effort to introduce a historic district downtown, Henicle said.

Historic district rules control what owners can do with their building's exteriors. Changes can require special permits that ensure that a building's historical significance is not compromised.

Henicle said such a district could be accepted in Waynesboro if the rules stay loose. "It could enhance the community providing they don't make it too stringent," she said.

Charles "Chip" McCammon, manager of Stake's Furniture at 55 W. Main St. and member of the Waynesboro Borough Council, said it could be good for the town. "A lot of other towns have them. Maybe we should do it here."

Doug Tengler, 32, the newly elected council president, said he's willing to give some thought to a historic district. "I'd look at it, I see some value in it, but I'd want to proceed with caution," he said.

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