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Downtown Hagerstown is full of good local flavor

September 02, 2007|By KATE COLEMAN

A little more than seven years ago, a committee of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce proposed an Arts and Entertainment District in downtown Hagerstown.

The Herald-Mail news staff covered the nuts and bolts of the plan. Then Executive Editor Gloria George asked me to write the "gee-whiz" story for the Lifestyle section of the newspaper.

She wanted to know what people were dreaming for the future of downtown Hagerstown.

I recently reread that story. Although many of the dreams have a way to go before becoming reality, some of them are coming true.

When out-of-town friends visit, I make sure to drive east on Washington Street so they see the beautifully rescued Baldwin House complex - now the University of Maryland System at Hagerstown. Discovery Station, a hands-on science and history museum, opened in 2005. The former Henry's Theatre is scheduled to be turned into the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts in a couple of years. City of Hagerstown and Washington County officials recently met to discuss a proposal that would permit a few sidewalk cafs on South Potomac Street.

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Gee whiz!

I grew up in a nice residential community near the New Jersey shore. Developed in the 1950s, it was mostly neighborhoods of fairly similar split-level and ranch houses. As a kid, I didn't know what was missing, but I later realized there was no central focus. No downtown.

I moved to Western Maryland in 1973 and immediately fell in love with the landscape and historical architecture. And I've longed for downtown to thrive.

I'm pretty much a happy homebody, but I don't want an experience that could be the same in Any Town, U.S.A., when I do go out. I want something unique. Something with local flavor.

It's happening downtown.

Music - live music - is what drew me to call my friend and neighbor Chuck one Friday night last month. The Ken Bussey Quartet was playing at Duffy's on Potomac. I have known Kenny and his family for more than 10 years and was really excited to be able to hear him perform so close to home. The restaurant features jazz on some Friday evenings, and I've gone with friends to hear other musicians - Howard Burns and his wonderful saxophone among them.

Chuck and I had a nice dinner, shared a yummy dessert and, with passes presented by our server, went to AVA, the swanky downstairs lounge.

"You gotta see this," Chuck said.

Chuck and his wife, Lisa, take great delight in getting me out on the town. He insisted we check out the deck at the back of the building. Nice. Several people chatted quietly, enjoying a pleasant summer evening.

We went across the street to the car, parked in front of another downtown establishment - 43 South. I got in the vehicle, but Chuck, noticing a band playing inside, decided that Homebody Kate had to experience this, too.

We sat down in front of Will Hill, a Baltimore trio, named for its lead singer and guitarist. Hill, with bass and conga-drum players - performed original music with passion and energy. I'm happy I had a chance to hear them in downtown Hagerstown.

My evening wasn't over with the music. Of course, Chuck had to show me the stylishly renovated downstairs, and we came back up and shot a game of pool - however badly.

I was home before midnight and listened to the message on my telephone answering machine. It was from the bartender at AVA. My cell phone had fallen out of my purse, and she called "home" to tell me she'd hold it for me.

That was icing on the cake of a wonderful evening downtown - a considerate, small-town touch.

Just the kind of local flavor I like.

Kate Coleman writes a monthly Lifestyle column and covers the Maryland Symphony Orchestra for The Herald-Mail. She can be reached via e-mail at katec@herald-mail.com.

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