Westminster small business owners look to attract more people downtown

When asked about the goals of the Downtown Westminster Coalition, local public relations professional David Baker will normally begin gesturing with his right index finger as if he is connecting an imaginary set of dots.

Although he catches good-hearted grief from his colleagues about his demonstrative hand motions, business owners involved in the recently formed Downtown Westminster Coalition say connecting local businesses is what they are all about.

"If we can accomplish that, we will accomplish a lot more," said Shawn Lockhart, owner of Eclecticity, an art gallery on John Street.

Lockhart is one of a handful of business owners who meet on a monthly basis to discuss how the coalition can get started to help local business owners.

In total, the coalition has about a dozen local businesses interested in becoming a part of the coalition, according to Baker.

Cross promoting downtown business, or "connecting the dots," is a key goal of the coalition, according to Sherri Hosfeld Joseph, owner of Birdie's Cafe.

"The success of one of us equals the success of all of us," she said.

Baker, who owns VoxPop Communications, said he would like to see the coalition become the "idea factory" for the City of Westminster.

"I see us as a think tank for downtown economic development," he said.

Business owners involved in the group say there are frustrations with the state of downtown, including a lack of foot traffic, vacant storefronts, and a lack of connectivity from one end of Main Street to the other.

Jim Breuer, who has owned Maggie's Restaurant and Pub for 23 years, said the city council and government can only do so much in terms of economic development for downtown.

He believes the coalition can add to the job the city is already doing.

"The bottom line is if we [business owners] don't, as individuals, step up, we can't blame anyone but ourselves," Breuer said.

He added that he hears quite often "Why can't Westminster be like Frederick."

"Unless someone steps up and tries to do it, it never will be," he said.

Hosfeld Joseph said her main frustration is that people take their business to national chains ignoring the quality of businesses downtown.

"The same can be said for any business up and down this street," she said.

While Baker said there are frustrations with the current state of downtown, the coalition wasn't formed to point fingers.

Instead, as stakeholders, it's up to them to find a solution.

"Kevin (Utz), Marge (Wolf), and Missie (Wilcox) do a fantastic job running the city, but they're not here to run our business," Baker said.

Wolf said Friday that the city is delighted about the group's formation and would like to see them meet more regularly.

"The more people with ideas, the better we all get," she said.

The coalition has tossed around numerous ideas on how it can help downtown and one initiative could be seen in the near future.

With downtown businesses frustrated by the lack of foot traffic, the coalition is in the process bringing more feet to the street.

Baker said he has been in touch with Carroll Area Transit System (CATS) to develop a downtown route to bring people onto Main Street from other parts of the county.

Although the group began meeting this summer, progress has admittedly been slow.

Group members attribute the slow start to limited time for small business owners and the fact that the group has yet to accomplish anything.

"There is some skepticism," Baker said. "This has been tried before."

Baker said the group is modeled after the Downtown Frederick Partnership, a nonprofit organization aimed at enhancing and promoting Downtown Frederick.

The coalition expects to have a proposal to present to the city within the first four months of the year, he said.

For more information on the coalition, visit its Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/downtownwestminster.

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