Entrepreneurs show faith in the future

January 05, 2008|By ARNOLD S. PLATOU

WASHINGTON COUNTY ? Sam Hashim opened a used car sales lot in Hagerstown a year and a half ago. Last month, he opened a second one.

How can anyone do that, given the nation's ongoing economic doldrums?

"You just gotta try," the 35-year-old Hashim said. "How do you know you're going to succeed unless you try? Your father, my father, probably had recession, had bad times, but you just can't say, 'I quit.'"

Despite all of the bad news in the economy here and throughout America, a lot of people are showing faith in the future.

In all, 409 people received licenses for new businesses in Washington County in the past year alone. That number is down, but only 14 percent from the 476 new ones in 2004, when the economy was booming.


The numbers don't surprise Bob Poor, marketing director of the local chapter of the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), which counsels people who are considering opening a business.

"That's only the tip of the iceberg," Poor said of the numbers. "Think of all the people say, in the service businesses like an independent insurance agency. As long as you're not selling products and collecting sales tax, generally, you're not required to have a business license.

"So there's a lot of activity out there that you and I don't know about, which makes it even more interesting."

Poor said that through the years, the number of people attending SCORE's workshops has remained steady, "which tells me the American dream of going into business actually never dies."

'A really good place'

Xiong "David" Tam, 40, and his wife, Yan "Lucy" Zhang, 30, of Germantown, Md., opened Downtown Cleaners in Hagerstown last July.

It is the first business ever for the couple, who moved to America from Beijing almost five years ago for economic opportunity, Zhang said.

As in China, she worked in Washington's suburbs for a dry-cleaning business. But, she said, opportunities were limited because she also needed to care for the couple's daughter, Raina, who is 5.

So Tam, a security guard for a company in Rockville, Md., thought of opening a business. Cleaning clothes seemed ideal because they wouldn't have to hire employees or buy much inventory.

And for a new investment, Hagerstown "is a really good place." Its economy "is connected to Pennsylvania, to West Virginia. That's why here has got more interest for investments," Tam said.

So the couple bought the 62 E. Antietam St. building where their new business is. It offers dry cleaning and laundry services, plus, Tam said, his wife is skilled at making draperies, doing embroideries and making alterations.

"I do shirt for just $1.25," Zhang said. "Launder shirt, wash and press. It's $1.25." She said she hand presses shirts with special buttons, rather than risk crushing them as automatic presses can do.

The shop is open from Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., and the days are made even longer because the couple commutes from their Germantown home. They hope to sell it soon and move here.

But Tam is optimistic.

"I'm confident in the economy," he said. "I'm glad people are coming to us."

On a morning before he must leave for his job in Rockville, he bustles about and talks of the discounts sometimes given to "the next 10 customers" to encourage them to return. Or, of his hopes for a pickup and delivery service someday.

All in all, Tam said, opening his family's first business has been both "exciting and scary."

And what of the sub and pizza shop for which the couple also has a business license? That, he said, will have to wait.

'Little bumpy'

Wanda L. Pipkin, a former nurse's aide and store clerk, opened her own business in her 13944 Broadfording Church Road home near Hagerstown last spring.

Pipkin, who is 46 and legally blind, said she wanted a way to supplement her family's income after the company where her husband works as a trucker suffered a downturn.

Responding to a TV advertisement, Pipkin opened Wanda's Village, which sells a variety of products from catalogs.

While she had hoped customers would come to her, her sales mostly have come from her going to area craft shows, she said. Also, she has a gift card Web site at

"Little bumpy" is how she describes her first year in business.

"I'm on the plus side, not very far, not behind, but not quite as profitable as I wanted," she said. "I was hoping to maybe pay a lot of bills off and maybe go to Hawaii for our 25th anniversary next month, but it didn't happen."

Pamela Smith, 37, of 12126 Waltz Road near Smithsburg, has had similar expectations and experiences.

Last January, Smith opened The Squirrel Patch, a business selling country and primitive-type crafts plus the wooden furnishings that her husband makes. The business took her to five craft shows last year.

Smith, who also works part-time ? for someone else ? as a floral designer, said she has no illusions that her new business will make her rich.

In her first year, she said, she might have gone in the hole a bit.

Extra money

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