Idea for 'shopping festival': Open the shops

May 21, 2006|by Norine Dagliano

To the editor:

When it comes to downtown Hagerstown, I sometimes feel like Nellie Forbush, the "cock-eyed optimist" of Rogers and Hammerstein's "South Pacific." The back page advertisement in the May 3 Herald-Mail beckoned me to "Come experience the Downtown Renaissance" on Friday, May 5. With promise of a "Shopping Festival" featuring "live entertainment retail stores and restaurants open late" I was eager to see the city streets come alive.

I left my Potomac Street office around 6:15 p.m. and strolled down to Public Square. With the exception of the lone guitarist playing and singing on the corner, things looked pretty much the same as any other evening downtown. The "regulars" were sitting at the table outside The Square Cup, a few others sat at tables outside Rocky's Pizza eating the usual fare. The Antique Cupboard had an "open" sign hanging on the door. The Rhubarb House was closed, as was the Visitors Center (how strange to invite the public to come downtown and not even have a Visitors Center to welcome them).


I crossed the street and walked up to Bones and Cones, the ice cream shop I had eagerly awaited that opened earlier this month. It had everything one could hope for - a finally restored 19th-century decor, enticing homemade pastries and candies, incredible ice cream and treats for pooches - everything but customers. I bought ice cream and sat on the step outside Carson's Jeweler (it too, was closed) and listened to the live music echoing against the empty building walls. Michelle's was open but it wasn't until the next day that I learned two of my favorite musicians were performing there (if only a sidewalk sign had enticed passers-by to come in for the music).

I wandered over to the Gourmet Goat to buy a light dinner - it too, was closed. "I know," I thought out loud, "I bet the action is on Washington Street in the new University Plaza." So, I got in my car and circled the block. Bentley's was closed, as wasz Carol and Company. Two people sat alone in the plaza, enjoying the quiet. Rococco was open, but again, a sidewalk sign announcing the evening dinner specials would have been a welcoming sight.

Where was the "shopping festival?" Why were the restaurants closed? What motivated a lone guitarist to sing his heart out to an apathetic town? I came home and read the back page ad again, thinking I may have mistakenly thought it was inviting me to downtown Hagerstown when the action was really somewhere down Interstate 70. Unfortunately, I had read it correctly.

I have to wonder who paid for the back-page ad. Was it the city operating under some misguided notion that if they said it was so, it would be so? Or was it someone with a bizarre sense of humor who thought it would be fun to lure the public downtown only to disappoint them with false promises?

I was already downtown that evening, working late. I can only imagine the disappointment (or worse, annoyance) of anyone who actually got in their car, sat through numerous stop lights, navigated one-way streets, parked and set out on foot to "experience the renaissance" only to discover that - like every other night in Hagerstown - almost everyone else (including the city officials and business owners) had elected to stay home.

Call me a cock-eyed optimist - or call me a hopeless fool - I will keep believing there is a "renaissance" waiting to happen.

Norine Dagliano

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