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Downtown business leaders meet, presentideas to boost foot traffic

February 17, 2005|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

A meeting on Wednesday of about 17 downtown Hagerstown business leaders was not exactly formal, but those present want the ideas they were talking about to be taken seriously.

Business leaders and city officials have long recognized the problem of a lack of downtown foot traffic, which retailers crave but haven't seen enough of for years.

As property values in the city are increasing, outside investors and longtime shop owners are hopeful that those market forces will translate into more street traffic, but the group that met Wednesday wants to take a more aggressive approach to the problem.

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"A lot of (the group's work) is geared toward revitalizing downtown ... and just marketing the area of downtown from the business perspective," local developer Mike Deming said before the meeting.

Deming, president of Demcore Development, said he and Valerie Minteer, who is soon to open an antique shop downtown, initially discussed some ideas to boost downtown business last year. It was those discussions that led to the formation of the group that has now met a few times, including Wednesday.

Deming said the first few meetings were to "get the ball rolling" on planning around city events such as the Western Maryland Blues Fest and Augustoberfest as well as to help to market new and existing businesses.

The group has a Web site - www.HagerstownMerchants.com - and is named the Hagerstown Downtown Business Group, but that is expected to change.

At Wednesday's meeting, Steve Colby, owner of Off the Deep End retail shop on West Antietam Street, said he hoped the group could come up with a name with "a little more flash."

City Economic Development Director Debbie Everhart, who attended the meeting, said earlier Wednesday that the group's formation is a welcome development.

Before the holiday season, Everhart's office worked with the group on a downtown business promotion that gave out $50 worth of gift certificates to 40 people - for a total of $2,000. Everhart said the gift certificates were all spent, and the promotion appeared to work by getting people to visit more than one shop.

Wednesday's meeting was a time to try to get new ideas out in the open.

Chris Grant, owner of Better Food Restaurant on East Washington Street, said it was his first time to attend, but he was interested in finding ways to boost downtown traffic.

"We all know how to bring people out," Grant said.

But bringing people to a business district is different than putting out a simple invitation.

"You've got to broaden your mind," Grant said.

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