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Carroll’s top business stories of 2019: Openings at TownMall; Ruby Tuesday and Comcast leave; and more

The Ruby Tuesday at 210 Malcolm Drive in Westminster closed abruptly in mid-September.
The Ruby Tuesday at 210 Malcolm Drive in Westminster closed abruptly in mid-September. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

Looking back at 2019, the Times has put together a list of the biggest stories from four categories based on significance as well as online readership. Over four days, we will present in roughly chronological order a look back at the 10 stories that shaped the year in Carroll County business, education, government and breaking news.

From the initial customers arriving at Carroll County’s first cannabis dispensary to the last customers served at a beloved restaurant in Westminster, openings and closings dominated the business landscape in Carroll.

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A Likely Story nominated

In late January, Publishers Weekly named Sykesville’s A Likely Story Bookstore to its shortlist for the publication’s annual Bookstore of the Year award. While the store ultimately didn’t win, being among the top five was quite an honor.

The bookstore at 7566 Main St. in Sykesville has developed a strong reputation among its customers for its service and selection as well as for bringing in quite the cast of nationally known authors. Among the bestsellers A Likely Story helped bring to Carroll County over the past 14 months were Nicholas Sparks, Michael Connelly, Chris Bohjalian, Harlan Coben, Lisa Scottoline and Sandra Brown.

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Five businesses open in TownMall

TownMall of Westminster, at times the subject of rumors of declining fortunes, held a grand opening for five new businesses this summer. Skayl, a defense contractor; Battleground, a video gaming lounge and event space; Sweet Additions, a bakery; The Mermaid Movement, an experience-based company focused on ocean conservation; and Hackney Haunts, a haunted attraction, were honored with a reception and ribbon-cutting ceremony.

It was good news for a mall, which had lost longtime and signature tenants in the past year, from Sears — part of a larger corporate collapse of the American department store chain — to Chick-fil-A to Christian book store The Mustard Seed, a mall staple since 2003. Although, according to Sam Himmelrich — president of the Baltimore-based real estate firm Himmelrich and Associates, which has owned the mall since December 2017 — those departures are regrettable but not debilitating.

“Malls everywhere will always have tenants joining and some leaving,” Himmelrich wrote in an email. “TownMall attempts to retain good tenants whenever possible and while we’re disappointed with move-outs a single tenant leaving does not affect our view of the mall. We continue to believe that the mall is the preeminent retail property in Carroll County.”

First cannabis dispensary opens

In July, Westminster’s Herbology opened its doors as the first medical cannabis dispensary in Carroll County. The opening was marked with a ribbon-cutting before registered patients formed a line that snaked out the door. Dispensary officials, Commissioner Dennis Frazier and representatives from the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce and Del. Haven Shoemaker’s office were among those in attendance.

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It was a long-awaited day for patients who had previously had to travel to Frederick or Reisterstown or Columbia for pain-relieving vapes, flower, topicals, concentrates and more. About three years after the Maryland General Assembly approved cannabis for medical use, two companies won preliminary licenses to sell cannabis in Carroll County in 2016. And although Grassroots Cannabis, a growing facility in Taneytown, opened in 2017, there wasn’t a dispensary opening for business in Carroll until July.

Sheriff criticizes Walmart security

In early August, when Walmart’s security was scrutinized nationally because of some high-profile incidents, Carroll County Sheriff Jim DeWees directed strongly worded criticisms of the company’s security policies after a man allegedly robbed the Eldersburg location.

“Walmart’s corporate policy on security breeds this type of activity,” DeWees told the Times. DeWees alleged Walmart’s security policy is lacking and said his deputies patrol the area of the Eldersburg Walmart more frequently than they might if crime rates were lower there. “Find me a Walmart that isn’t a burden on law enforcement resources and I will kiss your a--," he said.

The armed robbery in Eldersburg occurred just a day after police in Springfield, Missouri, said they arrested a man who went to a Walmart store with a rifle and body armor, terrifying shoppers. No shots were fired. Two days before that, reports of an active shooter at a Walmart in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, prompted local law enforcement to rush to the scene, only to find a false alarm.

Walmart executives met with DeWees and other officials following his comments.

Four Seasons avoids closing

The Four Seasons Sports Complex in Hampstead announced in late July it would close at the end of the season after 33 years in business.

But less than two weeks later, a day before Four Seasons was to close, a buyer emerged and kept it open when Coppermine Fieldhouse announced plans to acquire the facility, which features pools, indoor and outdoor fields, a fitness center and putt-putt golf course.

Company representatives said they plan to improve amenities at the facility, at 2710 Hampstead-Mexico Road, by upgrading the fitness center with new free weight equipment in addition to “fresh paint, lighting, flooring, restrooms, and other cosmetic changes and improvements." Coppermine also said it intends to convert the outdoor grass field to a synthetic turf field, upgrade indoor facilities and add “multi use spaces” with indoor turf and “multi-purpose flooring."

KnowMe wins Biz Challenge

KnowMe, which aims to make health care more efficient and effective for patients and providers, will now have thousands more dollars toward accomplishing that goal after winning the Carroll Biz Challenge. Developed by Casey Davis of Westminster, KnowMe is a medical record device and service that uses a smart bracelet to hold medical information, which doctors and other health care providers can then use to better serve patients.

This year’s Biz Challenge, powered by the Carroll Chamber of Commerce, offered services valued at over $21,000 in addition to the $5,000 cash prize, along with other prizes from local businesses and sponsors.

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Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday

Workers and customers arriving at Ruby Tuesday, at 210 Malcolm Drive in Westminster, in mid-September found the restaurant had been closed. A paper sign had been taped to the locked front door that read, “This Ruby Tuesday location is closed. We are sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused you ...” The sign was just above another decal on the glass door. That one read, “Now hiring team members.”

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Ruby Tuesday has shuttered more than 120 locations since 2016, according to reporting by Restaurant Business, with nine locations closed in just the first week of September, though the chain still operates more than 400 restaurants.

According to Stephanie Young, who had been a cook at the Westminster Ruby Tuesday, the location was closed during operating hours on Monday, Sept. 16. “Around like 7:30 p.m. the district manager comes in. There’s people eating, it’s the middle of dinner, he puts signs on the doors saying, store closed for business and locks the doors from the inside.”

Convenience stores open on opposite ends of county

After six months of renovations, the Sheetz in Manchester reopened its doors and its pumping stations on Sept. 26 to eager customers. The Sheetz, located at 3281 Main St., is now about twice its original size, since closing for renovations in March. It is now 5,988 square feet, nearly double its former 3,100-square-foot size, with double the pump stations, now at 12, a Sheetz spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, a new Wawa was opening a location at 1310 Liberty Road, marking Wawa’s first store in Eldersburg and the second in Carroll, the other being in Westminster. The grand opening celebration included T-shirts, a ribbon cutting ceremony with officials and a charitable hoagie building competition between the Maryland State Police and Sykesville Freedom District Fire Department.

Treat Shop to close

The Treat Shop, a fixture of Westminster’s Main Street for decades and the mall since it opened in 1987, closed for good in September. It was not an easy decision for owner Trevis Alban. “I was hot and cold there for a while, opening a couple of days a week,” he said, of the store’s location across from the theater at TownMall of Westminster, in an interview. “It’s been real tough.”

The Treat Shop carried all kinds of candy, but had a special focus on chocolate treats like chocolate-covered pretzels and turtles. Alban owned and operated The Treat Shop for 24 years, but its roots in the community go back much further, to at least 1950. The Treat Shop was originally owned and operated by the Burk family, and occupied various locations on Main Street over the years.

Comcast closes Carroll office

Comcast closed its Westminster service center, effective Oct. 19, and neither customers nor government officials were happy. The Carroll Cable Regulatory Commission and local citizens voiced their concerns about Comcast’s plan.

The company still has technicians based in the area, a Comcast spokesperson said, adding that closing the center would not affect response times for technicians to help customers because the technicians are based in Westminster.

Local residents said at the regulatory meeting they think it is unfair for them, especially the elderly, to have to do extra leg work because Comcast is leaving. Comcast offers a variety of ways to pay bills, including via phone, mail, app, website or paying through Western Union, which would cost an additional fee.

Two Comcast representatives addressed a Board of County Commissioners meeting and started their presentation by highlighting Comcast’s services and amenities. But were interrupted after a few minutes. “This is turning into an infomercial,” said Commissioner Ed Rothstein, R-District 5.

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