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Seeking audience, club leaves downtown

January 02, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Comedy is no joke to Keith and Stephanie Bryant, owners of the Joker's Wild Comedy Club and Wing Caf. They decided to move their business from downtown Hagerstown to Dual Highway in an effort to attract larger audiences.

Keith Bryant, originally from Norfolk, Va., has been a stand-up comedian for 14 years. He had thought about opening a comedy club in Hagerstown since he moved here more than four years ago.

He checked out the location of his first restaurant - Wing-It Caf, a chicken wing caf and comedy club - at 41 N. Potomac St. about six months before he settled on the site last June.

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"Downtown just sounded so good," he said.

After more than a year there, the Bryants decided the restaurant needed an address change to improve business. They moved it to the Days Inn on Dual Highway in November.

"Oh what a difference a mile makes," Keith Bryant said.

Business has increased 50 percent since the caf and club moved. Keith Bryant attributes the increase to hotel crowds he gets from the Days Inn and neighboring hotels that refer customers.

Some customers complained the downtown area was dangerous and the club too difficult to find - excuses Bryant said were based on fallacies.

"The parking deck was three doors away and people complained about parking," he said.

Bryant liked the North Potomac Street location, which featured a bar and club separate from the restaurant. But the Days Inn spot - across from the Passage to India restaurant - offers more space. He can use the hotel's ballroom for larger crowds drawn by big-name comedians.

The business is the same as it was downtown. The name was changed because the Bryants wanted more emphasis on comedy, Bryant said.

He had wanted to open a place where families and adults could come to unwind. Bryant is catering to an over-30 audience on select nights, has game nights for patrons who play checkers and cards and has a menu that features pizza-, Canadian- and teriyaki-flavored wings.

The Bryants hope to move back downtown once the arts and entertainment district is developed.

Downtown has served as an incubator for businesses that have later outgrown their available space, said Hagerstown Economic Development coordinator Deborah Everhart.

Everhart said the city is continuing its plans for the development of the art and entertainment district in the first block of South Potomac Street. The Maryland Symphony Orchestra has expanded and some buildings on that block are contracted to be either developed or demolished, she said.

"I didn't want to leave," Stephanie Bryant said. "I want to see downtown flourish."

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