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Businesses surviving in tough times

January 31, 2009|By ARNOLD PLATOU

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WASHINGTON COUNTY -- The year 2008 was tough on business, but at least three of the five new local companies The Herald-Mail profiled a year ago have survived.

"Even with this economy, this year has been much better than the first because I have more customers," Lucy Zhang said. She and her husband, David, opened Downtown Cleaners at 62 E. Antietam St. in Hagerstown in July 2007.

Now, the couple -- who moved to the United States from China nearly six years ago for economic opportunity -- are planning to begin making custom drapery, in addition to continuing their dry-cleaning business.

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That has Lucy Zhang excited though, at the moment, she's even more thrilled about having attained something her husband did awhile back.

"I just passed my citizenship test last week," she said. "I feel happy."

Here's an update on the other four new businesses The Herald-Mail profiled last January:

o Sam Hashim, who owns SMH Auto Sales, said he has closed the used car lot he had opened on Hagerstown's Dual Highway in December 2007, but is doing well at his original 1045 Virginia Ave. lot.

"Two locations (were) just too close," he said. "I was getting the same people looking, and paying double the rent."

But rather than hurting him, Hashim said, the recession has helped because his specialty is obtaining bank loans for customers who have poor credit. As more consumers have fallen behind on debts, he's gotten more customers, he said.

Hashim said his sales volume has increased "50 or 60 percent."

"We're actually helping more people now than we did before," he said. "None of the new car dealers are giving money away, so we actually could help out more."

o Pamela Smith, 38, of Smithsburg, who opened The Squirrel Patch in January 2007, said her sales of crafts and wood furnishings at area craft shows have slowed this past year.

As the recession took hold, she said, she noticed "instead of people buying $20 items, they've been buying $5 items."

o Marty Fritz has had to stop using the little string of vending machines he ran as Chloe's Sweets & Snacks, a business named for his young daughter and started as a sideline in 2007.

Fritz pulled the machines last June after the trucking company, where he had been working in maintenance, "went through a bankruptcy, had to lay some people off and I ended up working 50, 60 hours a week," he said.

When that left him with little time to restock his vending machines, "my customers started complaining, so I had to give it up," he said.

Now, Fritz still is busy working for two other companies.

But he hasn't given up on his six vending machines.

"I just put them in my garage for now," he said. "You just never know what's going to happen. With the economy like it is now, who knows?"

o Wanda Pipkin, who opened her own business in her Broadfording Church Road home near Hagerstown in early 2007, couldn't be reached for comment this past week.

And a computer search failed to turn up the gift card Web site Pipkin had been using a year ago for her Wanda's Village business. It offered a variety of products from catalogs.

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