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Two longtime Hagerstown businesses to move

R. Bruce Carson Jewelers and Lena's of Hagerstown will close Hagerstown locations

August 10, 2011|By HEATHER KEELS | heather.keels@herald-mail.com
  • R. Bruce Carson Jewelers, a downtown merchant since 1902, is moving their downtown location to Stone House Square on Leitersburg Pike.
By Ric Dugan, Staff Photographer

Lagging business in downtown Hagerstown led to recent decisions to close two of the city's iconic downtown shops in favor of shopping-center locations on the outskirts of the city, business owners said this week.

R. Bruce Carson Jewelers, a downtown merchant since 1902, ended retail activity at its shop on the square July 1, moving all sales to its Stonehouse Square store off Leitersburg Pike, owner Tom Newcomer said. That store, at 12814-G Shank Farm Way, opened in 2008.

Lena's of Hagerstown, a clothing boutique at 59 N. Potomac St., will soon make a similar move. On Oct. 1, after more than 50 years at its downtown site, Lena's will close its downtown store and move to 1303 Pennsylvania Ave., the former site of Benjamins Art Gallery, Manager Lori Ruda said.

For the jewelry store, the decision may be a temporary one, Newcomer said. R. Bruce Carson Jewelers did renew its five-year lease effective July 1, but for now is using the site only for a bookkeeping office and as workspace for one of its jewelers, he said.

"The thought was the downtown really wasn't doing the business versus the new store, and so essentially we thought we would just for now, sort of put it on hiatus, if you will, and ... we would see what would happen with the downtown a little bit before we would take any further action," Newcomer said.

For Ruda, the decision to move Lena's was a matter of survival.

"We realize this is kind of an icon, so we struggled with that ... but it's gotten to a point where we either move or consider the less-desirable option," she said.

She said the downturn in the economy has hurt sales, but so has the atmosphere downtown.

"It's just totally dead," she said. "There's no draw downtown anymore."

Of the businesses promoted as "The Uptown Shoppes of Downtown Hagerstown" on a mural on the side of the Lena's building, many are already gone, Ruda said.

"We've kind of hung in there," she said.

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The Boutique, one of the few others remaining, is moving from its 100 N. Potomac St. site to 57 Eastern Boulevard after Aug. 27, according to its website.

Many of Lena's customers dislike the parking situation downtown and find shopping downtown less appealing than did customers of many years ago, Ruda said.

"It's kind of the voice of the community," she said. "Because if they don't come in, we don't do business."

Customers, in general, have reacted positively to the news, she said.

"They say, 'Oh, it will be so much more convenient; so much easier,'" she said.



Downtown challenges

Newcomer said that while he still believes downtown Hagerstown has great potential, businesses there face challenges related to parking, perceived security issues, the prevalence of Section 8 housing, high prevailing rents and the difficulty of bringing old buildings up to code.

Still, the Maryland cities of Frederick and Cumberland have turned their downtowns around, and Hagerstown already has historic architecture, The Maryland Theatre, Barbara Ingram School for the Arts, the Maryland Symphony Orchestra and the new library working in its favor, Newcomer said.

"We've got all of these things in place; we just need to pull it together, and to me it just takes the leadership and political energy as well as private energy and partnerships to make it happen," he said.

Specifically, he said it would take economic incentives, proactive marketing of buildings, and an approach to permitting and coding that makes development economically feasible.

John Lestitian, director of community and economic development for Hagerstown, said the city wishes the departing businesses well but remains committed to the city center.

"Although we would like to keep the longtime businesses here, we understand that their business plans and business models and the demographics they target, driven primarily by the products they sell, may do better in a different location," Lestitian said.

However, Lestitian said he thought the perception that parking downtown is more difficult is a false one.

In addition to street parking and a surface lot, there is a 400-space parking deck about 120 feet from Lena's, no farther than customers might walk to visit a store in a mall, Lestitian said.

Through the city's Park & Shop program, business owners can buy vouchers for parking deck spaces at a 20 percent discount and give them out to patrons as they see fit, city spokeswoman Mary King said.

In addition, the city has demonstrated a commitment to the city center by acquiring the former CVS building on West Washington St., planning to acquire 36-40 N. Potomac St., promoting downtown events and offering revitalization incentives through its Partners in Economic Progress program, Lestitian said.

Think ReInk, which refills and sells ink cartridges, opened last week in the former CVS building, and both Potomac Bridal and Anderson Photography have recently expanded their downtown shops, he said.

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