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Business owners: Williamsport's plan to attract tourists is working

Some complain about unsightly buildings, lack of parking downtown

February 15, 2011|By DAVE McMILLION | davem@herald-mail.com
  • Rose Harris, the owner of Desert Rose Cafe in Williamsport, makes a latte for a customer. Harris said bicycle racks in front of her business have helped to bring bicycle riders into her cafe to buy soup, sandwiches, pastries and expresso drinks.
By Joe Crocetta, Staff Photographer

WILLIAMSPORT — Town officials wanted to attract more tourists to Williamsport, and some business owners say the plan is working to the point that it has been "crazy."

Local restaurant owner Mike Waugh recalled last summer's Bike Night, when crowds of motorcycle riders pulled into town for a night of music, camaraderie and fundraising.

It was a boon for business at Tony's Pizza Time Cafe at the corner of Conococheague and Salisbury streets.

"We couldn't get people in and out fast enough. It was really crazy that night," Waugh said.

Other business owners said they like what town officials have done to attract tourists. They talk positively about bicycle racks and bike lanes that have been added downtown, and about events the town has tried, like a Pirates Plunder last September.

"The town is getting better," said Tammy Whitney, owner of Williamsport Barber Shop Downtown.

A couple of business owners said there are issues regarding unsightly buildings in town and how parking is handled.

The town has closed Conococheague Street for events in warmer months, which forces people to park in front of Wolfe's On the Square, store employee Sue Slick said.

That hurts business at Wolfe's because the store's customers usually park in front of the store at Potomac and Conococheague streets for a short period to run inside for items, Slick said.

Slick suggested the town stage events in River Bottom Park, away from the downtown area.

Although Whitney said downtown Williamsport is improving, she is bothered by what she sees across the street.

"Pretty isn't it?" Whitney said, drawing attention to a building with boarded-up windows that are painted black.

Whitney said the 30-minute parking meters downtown need to go because they don't give tourists enough time to walk around the area. Whitney also complained about people on rental assistance who live in downtown apartments and take up parking spots.

Town officials have been concentrating on how to draw tourists from the nearby Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park. Williamsport officials, along with officials from other towns along the canal, have been examining issues like what kind of businesses would attract tourists and new signage for towns.

Michael Sparks, Williamsport's director of economic and community development, said the town is working on parking issues. Sparks said he wants to work on addressing the issues with businesses like Wolfe's, but he said parking usually becomes an issue in towns that start getting more vibrant.

Sparks said he understands Whitney's concerns about 30-minute parking meters and he said he would like to see the meters lengthened to two hours.

"It's going to be fixed," Sparks said.

In regards to people in town getting rent assistance, Sparks said there are not as many of those situations as people think.

Sparks said he thinks there are some single-family homes and business buildings in town that have been made into apartments, which is putting more parking pressure on the town.

Carolee Bartel, who owns Odyssey Gifts at 25 E. Potomac St., said she understands the parking issues that have affected Wolfe's. But, overall, Bartel said she is happy with the effort that is being made to change the town.

"They're certainly trying. There's no way you can make everybody happy," Bartel said.

Rose Harris said business has been good at her Desert Rose Cafe on Conococheague Street. The town put bicycle racks in front of Harris' business and in front of a bicycle shop across the street, and Harris said the racks have helped to bring bicycle riders into her cafe to buy soup, sandwiches, pastries and expresso drinks.

When it comes to keeping the downtown momentum going, Harris said she would like to see more businesses that complement each other.

Slick said she thinks the town should promote local fishing.

Just up the hill from the Potomac River and the canal, Wolfe's sells fishing gear, among other items.

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