Cup vacant store

The former location of the Cup Tea Bar & Cafe is one vacant storefront that could be filled with the help of the Westminster Incubator Program announced Monday. (Photo by Blair Ames / March 25, 2014)

With vacant storefronts scattered throughout the downtown area, City of Westminster officials are partnering with a relatively new Washington non-profit to try and bring business back to Main Street.

Westminster officials announced a business incubator program on March 24 that will offer financial assistance and mentoring to business owners looking to locate downtown.

"In these trying times, it's hard to build and sustain a business," said Missie Wilcox, a marketing consultant with the city. "We think this opportunity to build an incubator gives our potential businesses that leg up."

The city will partner with the Community Preservation and Stewardship Corporation (CSPC) to aid business owners with grant funding and assistance in finding other grant opportunities.

The city is specifically looking for restaurants or retail businesses in any stage of development, from concept to start-up to considering an expansion and moving from another location.

"We are not necessarily looking for businesses that are ready to open tomorrow in our applicants," said Katherine Penn, CPSC executive director.

Those who apply will be judged on their business' potential for sustainability, readiness to start operations, ability to benefit from resources and services provided by the program, compatibility with other Main Street businesses, and space available.

A four-member panel, including city and CSPC officials, will decide who is accepted.

This is the first such program taken on by CSPC, which has become much more active within the last year, according to Penn.

"As the incubator becomes successful, we hope to be able to grow it and offer greater amounts of rent money to give to a larger number of businesses," Penn said.

She described CSPC's role as that of a case manager, connecting business owners to existing services available in the county, while providing funding for business startup expenses.

Business owners approved for the program may receive up to $5,000 through CSPC. Funding can be used for rent payments, marketing expenses, or other operational costs.

Although the city is just opening the application process for the program, both Penn and Wilcox said new businesses may open along Main Street with the help of this program within a few months.

Wilcox added that she is meeting with two prospective applicants next week to discuss applying.

"We already have three businesses that are ready to apply for the program, so we're really excited," she said.

Once selected, businesses will also be assigned a mentor, possibly a current downtown business owner, who will be able to provide assistance.

In addition to the incubator program services, CSPC will assist business owners in connecting with existing local services, such as the Carroll Business Path and courses at Carroll Community College's Miller Center for Small Business.

Mark Einstein is chairman of CSPC's board of directors. Einstein owns a share of the now vacant East Main Street property where The Cup Tea Bar and Cafe coffee shop was located before moving to its present location.

City Councilman Tony Chiavacci called the program a "really good idea."

"We certainly have vacant storefronts and we're trying to do everything we can, from the city side, to make Main Street vibrant," he said.

Chiavacci added that it's "wonderful" the city is able to offer this without using city funds.

For information on the business incubator program, go to http://www.westminstermd.gov.