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High hopes remain for Waynesboro's Main Street

August 31, 2006|by JENNIFER FITCH

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Half sheets of white paper sprinkled with tally marks are stacked under the counter of Total Vac in the Rouzerville, Pa., shopping center anchored by Food Lion.

Store owner Sam Long pulls out two pieces and points to the matching columns labeled "Saturday."

The one in his right hand has two tally marks, while the one in his left has at least six times as many.

"It's like a whole different ballgame," he said, explaining the pen strokes that represent customers entering his store.

The sheet with two tallies was recorded before his business moved off Waynesboro's Main Street. The second shows the increase since the move earlier this summer.

Long polled his customers while considering the relocation. "Thank God" was the reaction of one woman who had just parked on the other side the street, crossed it while lugging a vacuum and then had to drag the vacuum an additional half a block, he said.

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The departure of Long and others from the section of Pa. 16 that runs through Waynesboro's downtown has left one in four ground-level business spaces vacant or inactive from Broad Street to Grant Street. Their reasons for leaving are different but the voids are obvious, with "For Lease" signs dotting storefronts for months at a time.

"It's an evolution until you find the right core mix and put that mix together," Greater Waynesboro Chamber of Commerce Executive Director MaryBeth Hockenberry said. The livelihood of Main Street is cyclical, and the 150-member nonprofit organization Main Street Waynesboro Inc. is launching initiatives in a 25-year rebirth of the downtown, she said.

Nearby Greencastle, Pa., doesn't have any vacant businesses on Pa. 16, which serves as the town's main street, Greencastle-Antrim Chamber of Commerce Director Bill Gour said.

"Stable is definitely a word I would use to describe the downtown," Gour said.

Baltimore Street (Pa. 16) is anchored by Wolf's Bakery, Greencastle Coffee Roasters and Antrim House Family Restaurant, Gour said. ELM Department Store, ELM Shoes and a mix of gift shops then pick up the foot traffic, he said.

The differences between Pa. 16 in Greencastle and Waynesboro are that the commercial section is more compact, parking is more accessible and longtime community events have fostered good will, according to Gour.

"There are a lot of people who come to downtown Greencastle and just walk around," Gour said. "It's beneficial to have a downtown area where people can park in one place, walk around and visit all the stores."

Hockenberry said the differences between the main streets are the anchor stores, size and ownership. A number of downtown Waynesboro properties are owned by out-of-state people and companies, she said.

Gour, however, can name sections of Baltimore Street owned by the same, local person. Everyone in town knows who owns the properties, so accountability results in them being well maintained, Gour said.

Waynesboro has a facade improvement program to provide property owners with Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development funding for painting, signs, awnings and historical restoration. A second, similar program is in development.

A third initiative offers grants for new downtown Waynesboro businesses and expansions.

"I think we're all on the same page that we would like it a little more active than it is," Waynesboro Borough Manager Lloyd Hamberger said.

Yet, comprehensive planners working in Waynesboro see Main Street's strengths while envisioning its future, he said.

"Most of the consultants that have come here say how good Main Street is compared to the other communities," Hamberger said. Hockenberry described the consultants as excited about the street's prospects.

"Downtown doesn't have to be a handicap," Hockenberry said. "I think a lot of times people act like having a business in the downtown is a handicap."

Mike Cermak Jr., who is active in Main Street Waynesboro Inc., continues to feel Main Street is a good venture for businesses, although he and his father are moving theirs to the former ambulance squad headquarters at 44 S. Potomac St. For about a year, they looked for a Main Street property for expansion but couldn't find the square footage they needed in the older buildings, he said.

The parking lot also is more convenient for customers carrying computers into Cermak Technologies, Cermak said.

At Total Vac, Long also finds benefits with the parking lot at his new location, and he appreciates people stopping in after going to the grocery store. People rarely just walked into the Main Street location, he said.

"There's no foot traffic, no people going by saying, 'What's he got in there?'" Long said.

People still frequent downtown to do their banking, peruse the selection at the library and address matters at borough hall, Hockenberry said. Business owners also are being encouraged to keep stores open in the evenings and on weekends, she said.

That's a case of "the chicken and the egg" because people also need to frequent the downtown during those times, Hockenberry said.

"I have retailers who stay open and no one comes," she said.

A lack of evening business activity downtown also is on the radar of Waynesboro Police Chief Ray Shultz. Vacant and unlit storefronts encourage loitering and disorderly conduct, he said.

One thing that's going to turn around the condition of Main Street will be the hiring of a full-time downtown manager, Hockenberry said. Main Street Waynesboro Inc. opened applications for the manager Monday and hopes to hire someone in September, she said.

Barbara Chandler, owner of downtown Waynesboro staple James Shoes, admitted she had considered moving off Main Street, but said Wednesday she has no intention of leaving.

She said the store benefits from having a second entrance in the back where there is off-street parking.

Jim Stein, president of Main Street Waynesboro Inc., did not return calls for this story.

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