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Businesses, leader have faith in Waynesboro's downtown

July 05, 2012|By JENNIFER FITCH | waynesboro@herald-mail.com
  • Christine's Cafe owner Sheree Green, left, moved her restaurant to the site of the former John Wallace Kitchen at 81 W. Main St., Waynesboro, Pa. She is shown with her executive chef, Keith Lowman.
By Jennifer Fitch, Staff Photographer

WAYNESBORO, Pa. — Waynesboro, like many small towns, lost downtown businesses when the economy soured, but it is starting to experience an influx of new restaurants and gift shops.

At the helm of economic development is Patrick E. Fleagle, a former politician now working for downtown revitalization organization Mainstreet Waynesboro Inc.

When walking through downtown, the Waynesboro native often refers to buildings by their long-gone tenants, but he also sees what could be on the horizon. He pins all hopes for economic vitality on smart proprietors.

As he crosses Center Square, Fleagle pauses at a new business selling stained-glass gifts.

“This type of store and eateries are going to be the life of downtown,” he said.

Bill Fontana, executive director of the Pennsylvania Downtown Center, said there are 900 to 1,000 “downtowns” in Pennsylvania. Waynesboro is one of 172 downtowns that has received financial assistance through a Main Street program.

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The last few years have presented various challenges for downtowns, Fontana said.

“For lots of people, obviously the economy is an issue, ... (but) I’m impressed with how many small downtowns, including Waynesboro, have weathered this,” he said.

In Waynesboro, the Gracie’s Place sandwich shop on Center Square closed only a few weeks after opening.

Fleagle believes a Japanese restaurant will take its place.

The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development says turnover of businesses indicates a healthy downtown, so a valid test is evaluating whether new businesses are moving into the spaces being vacated, according to Fleagle.

Still, Fleagle said he is thankful for good landlords and long-standing businesses like the Kulla, Barkdoll, Ullman & Painter law firm.

“You need that stability,” he said.

Downtown property owner Craig Mahrle has started renovating the old Wolff Building on East Main Street.

The building, which formerly housed Waynesboro Community and Human Services, had seriously deteriorated, Fleagle said.

Fleagle wants small business owners to share their best practices and techniques with each other. For instance, he hopes Zoe Tsoukatos from Zoe’s Chocolate Co. can work with the Shippensburg (Pa.) University Small Business Development Center to explain how she does online marketing and sales.

Fleagle praises Tsoukatos for her work and says he wants to find more people like her.

“I don’t want businesses,” he said. “I’m looking for entrepreneurial people.”

Stewart McCleaf opened Celebrity Deli about a month ago at 37 E. Main St. to fill a void he saw for deli sandwiches. He said he is happy with the customer response.

“We’re definitely going to grow out of this space,” he said.

Sheree Green moved Christine’s Cafe to a more central location at 81 W. Main St., site of the former John Wallace restaurant. She said the move from the 200 block of East Main Street turned out to be wonderful.

“We (previously) had seven parking spots, which was really hard for us,” she said.

Now, Green employs an executive chef, Keith Lowman, and added dinner to her offerings. She already hosts live musicians who play mellow sounds inside the restaurant, and Fleagle envisions the restaurant having louder concerts on the patio for special events.

“They can just blossom,” Fleagle said.

Fleagle has high hopes for downtown restaurants in light of Christine’s Cafe and Celebrity Deli opening.

“I’m hoping this is a cluster effect of eateries,” he said.

“That is not competition to me. That is beneficial to me,” Green said, saying she wants customers to stay in town.

Other issues, like the closing of Waynesboro News Agency, prove troublesome for Fleagle.

“This is probably one of the biggest disappointments I’ve had as downtown manager,” he said as he stood outside the vacant business.

A key word for revitalizing Waynesboro will be “destination,” Fleagle said.

Carl Hill is making major renovations to an older building at 69 W. Main St. His family’s business, Gatehouse Candles, moved into the first floor; upstairs, Neverland Games opened a game room and Cool Photography has a studio.

Hill’s business will offer classes to teach 20 to 30 people at a time how to be candlemakers. He also has three kilns for ceramics.

Tony Vigil, proprietor of Neverland Games, continues to maintain retail space at 8 E. Main St. He said the larger space at 69 W. Main St. allows for more people to participate in tournaments.

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