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Competitors join forces, help businesses

Six women who own businesses in downtown Hag-erstown united for advertising purposes, and along the way they became friends.

Six women who own businesses in downtown Hag-erstown united for advertising purposes, and along the way they became friends.

September 02, 2007|By DENNIS SHAW

A half dozen Hagerstown businesswomen have found that a rewarding way to help themselves is to help others.

The owner/operators of six downtown shops, who joined together several years ago for advertising purposes, this year combined forces to support charitable causes and increase their exposure at the same time.

The stores and the women who own them are Marge Davis at Basketful of Gifts; Peggy Cushwa at Maggie's Hang-ups; Brenda Goodwyn at The Figurehead II; Shana Ringer at The Boutique LLC; Lola Mosby at L&L Classic Clothing; and Lori Ruda at Lena's of Hagerstown.

The stores are all at, or very close to, the intersection of Franklin and Potomac streets. While competitors in some ways, the women decided several years ago that they had more to gain than lose by joining forces to buy advertising. They called themselves "The Uptown Shoppes" because they were one block up North Potomac Street from the Square.

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They display a yellow star in their windows to attract shoppers, a visual symbol they adopted from maps where a star indicates "You Are Here."

Visual symbol

"Shop Where You See the Star" is their slogan, boldly painted on the side of the building at the southeast corner of Potomac and Franklin streets that houses Lena's.

The stores sell primarily women's fashions, accessories and gifts, and Maggie's Hang-ups provides customized picture framing. But in the process of competing with each other, the women often found themselves helping each other out, and they became friends who meet every week to discuss business and personal concerns.

They advertise jointly in print and on radio, and also have their own Web site, at www.uptownshoppes.com, with a common home page and links to each business.

"It's vital," Ringer said. "If we didn't advertise together, we couldn't afford it."

"We get a lot more bang for our advertising buck this way," Cushwa added.

This year, the women decided to work together in another way.

Each had been providing support to worthwhile causes, donating merchandise or gift certificates to raise money for The Maryland Symphony Orchestra, The Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, breast cancer awareness, and various schools and civic groups. Now they work together in those areas, too.

In February, they staged a fashion show at a dinner held at Robinwood Medical Center called "Wisdom from the Heart - Women and Cardiac Disease," which was to raise community awareness for women and heart health. This involved a much bigger commitment than simply making donations.

"It was a lot of work," Ringer said. "Every model wore three outfits, and that involved a lot of preparation and fitting, and doing all the write-ups for the dresses."

"It was like emptying our store out and taking it somewhere else," said Cushwa, who, along with Davis, doubled as models.

Fashion show

In March, the women staged a second fashion show and boutique, this one at Cortland Mansion near Long Meadow.

That was at the "Gift of Sight" benefit held by the Hagerstown Lioness Club to support the Maryland Eye Bank. As was the first show, this one was considered a success, and the women plan to appear again at the Lioness benefit in November.

At the same time they are helping charitable causes, they hope they're also helping business.

They agree that you don't see results right away from something like the fashion shows, and only Mosby could directly pinpoint some customers who came to her shop as a result of a benefit.

"But we're getting our names out, and people see what we have," Ruda said.

That can only help business, which isn't always easy for shops seeking to make it in downtown Hagerstown.

Lena's, under different owners, has been downtown for more than 50 years, but the other businesses are newer. For L&L Classic Clothing, it's six years; Basketful of Gift, 10 years; The Boutique LLC, four years; Maggie's Hang-ups, 20 years; and The Figurehead II, nine years.

The women expressed optimism about downtown's future.

"I truly believe in downtown. It's going to happen," Ringer said.

"But it's not going to happen overnight," Cushwa added. "There's a wider range of people in Washington County now. We're seeing a change of clientele, people looking for different things."

The women are seeing more clients from out of the area, some of whom might be tourists taking walking tours of downtown who are impressed by the architecture.

No matter what, the women intend to keep on having shows at benefits, for several reasons.

"They might be good for business, they're definitely for good causes, and besides, they're fun," Goodwyn said.

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