Bel Air residents and visitors have a few grand openings to look forward to in the coming year.
Although small business owners on Main Street and greater Bel Air are feeling the effects of the economic downturn, Town Director of Economic Development Trish Heidenreich said Thursday the town has been doing "amazingly well."
"We have really low vacancy rates," she said, referring to the few empty storefronts on Main Street and Bond Street.
Compared to the region, she reiterated, Bel Air is doing fairly well. As the director of economic development for the Town of Bel Air, Heidenreich said, businesses have approached the department in the past to inquire about moving to Bel Air.
"There's a possibility of seeing a few vacancies fill up in the next four to five months," she added.
A few of these businesses have confirmed their moves, including Safe Harbors Travel Group, which will be filling a vacancy on the second floor of 126 S. Main St.
Safe Harbors President Jay Ellenby said in early August that the company was in the process of relocating and expected to be moving within a couple of weeks. Safe Harbors was in downtown Baltimore for approximately 20 years before moving to a location in Owings Mills.
Now they are locating to Main Street, he added, because they "saw the good things going on in Bel Air."
These good things, he said, include changes from BRAC and other "community activities."
Safe Harbors Travel Group is different from the average agency, Ellenby said, because it is a corporate travel agency with a humanitarian edge.
The agency not only helps corporations plan travel, which Ellenby said will "fill a void" in this area, but offers a ministry and humanitarian division as well. Safe Harbors holds special contracts with airlines that allow for up to 45 percent in savings off the everyday publish or online rate, specifically for mission trips.
They went that way because it was a "business opportunity," Ellenby said, later adding they "thought it would be a good direction to go."
Since they announced the move, he said, several people have congratulated the company, which is planning for an October grand opening.
October will be a busy month overall for the Town of Bel Air, with the new Chinese restaurant The Orient Chinese Cuisine & Sushi Bar also scheduled to open during the end of October, Heidenreich said. This is the third location for The Orient, with one in White Marsh and one in Perry Hall, she said.
"We're just very excited that they're here because we think that they're going to be a real asset to the town and to Main Street," she added.
Plus, The Orient plans to be open during dinnertime, which Heidenreich said she hopes will encourage other businesses along Main Street to extend their hours, if possible.
Having tried the food herself, Heidenreich called it "really good," saying if visitors like sushi and Chinese cuisine, they will be "really pleased."
In addition to the businesses that are coming, Heidenreich referenced a few that have moved in in the past couple months that visitors and residents can check out. These include Stratosphere Studio at 116-A S. Main St., new to Bel Air in July.
The studio, according to Heidenreich, specializes in web and graphic design.
Even though businesses have left Main Street in the past couple of years, other businesses have moved in to take their place and Bel Air has maintained an "excellent" 7 percent vacancy rate for the past several years, according to Heidenreich.
One of these businesses is Everything Goes, a consignment shop Heidenreich said has taken the place of Main Street Cigar at 107 S. Main St.
Also in May, she added, Louis Molano opened up Over 30 Fitness at 206 S. Hays St. offering an emphasis on helping people over the age of 30 regain strength and flexibility.
Bel Air is doing well despite the economy, Heidenreich reiterated, and these changes in many cases are unrelated to financial struggles and have to do with the ever-changing dynamics of any town.
"[The] reality is that a town and a community [are] not static things," she said, adding that people retire, move and sell businesses. "It's always dynamic."
There are a few potential programs to help Bel Air maintain a successful business community as well. One is a community legacy grant the town is applying for in October, which, according to Heidenreich, can help improve the façade of the town.
If accepted by the State Department of Housing and Community Development, the grant would allow the town to reinstate a program that offers matching funds to businesses looking to improve the exterior of their buildings. Improving aesthetics, Heidenreich emphasized, will help the town in the long run.
"It definitely does help because it increases pedestrianism and that's our objective," she said.
Another possible boost to Bel Air businesses was featured in a seminar Wednesday night at Harford Community College. The Bel Air Downtown Alliance, under the direction of Executive Director Scott Walker, hosted Cinda Baxter, founder of the 3/50 Project.
Baxter's idea, according to a press release, is to encourage consumers to spend $50 each month at three independently owned businesses. She discussed this and other tips Wednesday night, Walker said, in a seminar that attracted approximately 75 business owners from as far away as Baltimore andAnnapolis.
Overall, Walker added, attracting consumers is a challenge still, especially during the summer while many visitors are on vacations and otherwise busy.
Businesses are looking forward to school shopping and the Christmas season, he said.
"I think overall the climate is good," Walker said, "but that doesn't mean they're sitting on easy street."