With the aid of a small business loan from the town government, a new cookie bakery and store will be opening in the next few months on Bel Air's Main Street.
During Tuesday's town meeting, the Board of Town Commissioners unanimously approved a $40,000 loan to All About Cookies LLC, which plans to set up shop in a vacant storefront at 116 S. Main St.
Kimberly Wilkins will run the business. Wilkins, who attended the town meeting with her husband, Dylan, said afterward that she has done commercial baking for a number of private accounts, among them DuClaw Brewing, but has not operated a retail business.
Wilkins, who lives in Aberdeen, said she will make some cosmetic improvements to the space she is leasing, as well as equipping her baking area and store.
"It's my passion," she said of baking. An opening date has not been determined, Wilkins said, noting she still has a lot of work to do to get ready.
The loan is the first approved under a new small business revolving loan fund the town government set up in the past year, using $75,000 in town funds and a $50,000 state community legacy grant.
The revolving loan fund is designed to provide low cost financing to small start-up businesses or existing businesses trying to expand that might have difficulty qualifying for more conventional loans and their higher interest rates.
The term of the loan approved Tuesday is for 10 years at an interest rate in the 2 to 2.5 percent range, according to information discussed at a commissioners work session on Jan. 15.
During that earlier discussion, Town Administrator Chris Schlehr conceded that loans of this nature "are going to be a little bit risky."
Schlehr also said the town isn't using the new loan fund to make money, but rather to encourage more businesses to locate in town, particularly along the Main Street corridor.
It was also pointed out the town would have recourse in the event of a default because it will have a lien on the business' capital assets, which will include commercial grade baking and refrigeration equipment. Under the loan agreement, Wilkins can only draw $5,000 at a time and must present receipts of expenses totaling that amount to receive the draw.
Town officials said there have been several people who expressed interest in receiving a loan from the town's revolving fund; however, Wilkins was the only one so far who met the program's requirements. The loans are vetted by a committee made up of Schlehr, the town's directors of finance and economic development, a small business specialist from the county economic development office and a local banker.
Earlier Tuesday, Economic Development Director Trish Heidenreich said she is optimistic the loan will be the first of many to help attract small businesses to town.
"She [Wilkins] loved Bel Air and Main Street," Heidenreich said.