Businesses opening despite economy

January 31, 2009|By ARNOLD PLATOU

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TRI-STATE -- Opening a new business is always difficult.

But in 2008, during the recession?

"I think I picked the wrong year," said Karen King, who opened K-B Deli in Hagerstown's West End last February.

Business is slow in her little combination deli, restaurant and grocery, but as someone who loves to cook, she is not giving up.

"I'm a go-getter person," King said. "When I know there's potential, I'm going after it."

Just as King is seeing customers buy less, dry cleaner Bayron (pronounced Byron) Miranda -- who opened his second shop last January -- is seeing them bring in less.


"This is a tough economy," Miranda said. "It's scary, too, because there's a lot of businesses closing right now. And with us as small business, you see larger businesses closing and you wonder, 'They close and can we survive?'"

Then, there's Scott and Sheree Green, who bought their first business -- a little restaurant called Gracie's Place in Funkstown -- in 2007.

They opened three more little Gracie's Place restaurants around the area in 2008.

"It's been a little tough, but we're doing OK," Sheree Green said. "Each store is pretty much holding their own."

But compared to a year ago, many of Gracie's customers in Funkstown are cutting back.

"Back when we began, older couples would come in to eat, buying a sub and soup," Sheree Green said. "They'd eat half the sub and take the other half home to put in the refrigerator for later.

"Now, they more share half a sub and split a soup. Sometimes, they'll tell me, 'We just love to come out, but we're only going to spend a little bit.' And, I say, 'That's OK.'"

By the numbers

A total of 267 new businesses opened in Washington County in 2008, according to a Herald-Mail count of licenses at the Clerk of the Court's office.

That's 142 fewer -- 34.7 percent -- than the 409 that Clerk Dennis Weaver said opened here in 2007.

The 267 also is the lowest number of new businesses opened in any year since 2002, when such figures first were recorded. In that year, 249 new businesses opened. Those figures include existing businesses that changed hands.

Of the new ones that opened in the county last year, about 25 are in the construction trades, six are beauty salons, three do nails, at least 25 are restaurants and three are dry cleaners, according to the Herald-Mail count.

The new businesses include ones for such national chains as Chico's, Chipotle, Harry & David, Kinko's, Mattress Warehouse and Long John Silver's. And there's the Clarion Hotel & Conference Center, and Hager Hall Conference and Event Center.

K-B Deli

Karen King, who grew up in Williamsport and has 10 grandchildren, said she's been wanting a business of her own.

The choice seemed obvious.

"Waitressing and cooking was all I ever knew ever since I was 18 or 19," said King, who is in her 50s.

In fact, she said, she used to have a restaurant, Country Kitchen, that did well in the Spring Mills area north of Martinsburg, W.Va.

She was living in Hagerstown's West End early last year when the little shop at the corner of George and Winter streets -- with tin ceilings, circular wooden windows and a history of neighborhood businesses dating back decades -- came open. She and her fiancé, Ricky Burger, took the lease.

Inside, K-B Deli has three tables for customers and a long white refrigerator display case that "Mr. Renner," who lives a few doors away, used when he had a grocery and deli in the shop in the 1940s.

Along the walls are long wooden shelves lined with cans of food. For instance, there's all manner of beans -- green, butter, lima, and kidney, and beans with pork and beans with franks -- one, two or three cans of each.

But what she loves most about the business is working in the kitchen area behind the counter.

"I love to cook and bake," she said. "I make pies and cakes."

There's hot sandwiches, homemade soups and three kinds of slippery potpie. She cooks all of this on a two-burner hot plate, rolling out her potpie dough on a counter using flour, water and eggs.

And Saturday mornings, from 8 a.m. to noon, she makes chipped beef gravy and sausage gravy and serves it over toast and biscuits.

All this, but still no profit.

King is not discouraged. She knows experts say you shouldn't expect a new business to make a profit the first two years.

"I have another year" until then, she said. "But I am hoping that somewhere on into this year, some things will start picking up and I'll do better."

Kenley Express Cleaners

Express Dry Cleaners

Bayron Miranda was just 19 when he left Guatemala and moved to America, looking for a better life.

Living in Los Angeles and later Baltimore, he moved to Hagerstown in about 1997 and soon got a job in the dry cleaning shop he owns now at the Kenley Village shopping center at the city's southeastern edge.

About six years ago, the shop owners decided to give up the business and asked Miranda if he wanted to buy it.

"I knew how to do the press and the cleaning," said Miranda, 37. "I decided to buy it because I knew the business."

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