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Business owners say incubator should help launch bookstore or website design

Discussion centered on far-ranging issues facing downtown

January 19, 2011|By DAVE McMILLION | davem@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN — A business incubator being proposed for a former CVS building at 60 W. Washington St. in Hagerstown should be used to help launch businesses like a bookstore and a business that specializes in website design, according to a group of people that met at a downtown restaurant Tuesday afternoon.

The idea of a bookstore, a shop that sells school supplies, and a place where students can buy food and coffee would be a hit among people at the nearby University System of Maryland at Hagerstown, the school's executive director said during the meeting.

"I guarantee you students will hit it," USMH Executive Director C. David Warner III said.

The discussion at The Gourmet Goat on North Potomac Street also centered around far-ranging issues facing downtown, and the meeting, designed for business owners, sometimes touched on some tough subjects, like unsightly properties downtown.

Warner said there have been positive changes downtown, like widening of sidewalks, the addition of tables outside where people can eat, and an arts and entertainment district.

One problem with downtown is that people often go there to visit one business then leave, said Mary Anne Burke, executive director of the Washington County Arts Council.

The downtown area needs more retail business, which ends up helping all business downtown, Burke said.

People need a "reason to walk a half block to see what else is there. I think that's what's lacking here," Burke said.

Paul Deputy, one of the owners of The Gourmet Goat, said tax credits need to be extended to new businesses downtown to help them get over tax burdens in today's struggling business climate.

"The economy is killing us," Deputy said.

The Hagerstown City Council last week unanimously approved spending $220,000 to purchase the former CVS building at 60 W. Washington St. as a business incubator space for downtown.

The city has proposed an adaptive reuse project for the property to help support business growth and redevelopment in the city center.

Hagerstown will use a mix of downtown revitalization funds, capital improvement funds and a Maryland Community Legacy Grant to buy the building, according to city documents.

The city sponsored the meeting Tuesday at The Gourmet Goat to encourage business owners to give input on technical assistance the city can give businesses and what the incubator should involve.

"You're in the downtown. You're working in it every day," Hagerstown Development Funding Specialist Kathy Saxman said.

In addition to providing space for business, business incubators can also offer technical assistance like access to copy machines, telephones and offering help with setting up business plans and accounting systems, Saxman said.

One person at the meeting suggested a "one-stop shop" for people setting up new businesses that can help them navigate government requirements involved in setting up a business.

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