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Downtown merchants praise exiting association leader


WESTMINSTER -- In Shane White, downtown business owners have had a dedicated leader.

Next month, White will step down after three years as president of the Westminster Business Association.

"I thought of her lingering over and loving old traditional Westminster, but also showing the courage to ride right into the eye of the future," said Rebecca Orenstein, a city councilwoman and downtown business owner.

White said she now wants to become "a lady of leisure" -- or as close as she can get while still owning two businesses.

White owns two shops side-by-side in the Babylon building on Main Street. In one, shoppers browse among antique chairs, tables, books and bottles. Next door, they check out the latest in bicycles and accompanying gear.

"Her antique emporium displays her reverence for what is old, traditional and historical," Orenstein said. "Her bike shop, on the other hand, contains what is new, shiny and built for speed."

As a spokeswoman for downtown merchants -- she also served as the group's first vice president for four years -- White always has tried to be upbeat about the shopping area's future.

Downtown has changed since she opened the bike shop 10 years ago, but it remains a viable business district, she said. There are fewer retail shops and more offices and service businesses now, she said.

"I like to think a majority of the stores are unique to a downtown, rather than a shopping mall," White said.

She said she promotes the area when she takes day trips to nearby towns. She talks up the shops in "a lot of one-on-one ambassadorship," she said.

Mayor W. Benjamin Brown, a former business owner and association member, gives White credit for holding the group together during lean times. More and more businesses are opening along Route 140 and drawing customers from Main Street, he said.

A "lively" downtown is important and gives a community a "healthy" appearance, he said. But the downtown probably won't ever be a major commercial center in the city again, he said.

Downtown business owners must work harder to establish a niche, Brown said.

Anita Gierlach, owner of Just Sew Sew on Locust Lane and an association officer, said White has done a good job of working with the avowed "individuals" who run businesses downtown.

"She has been extremely diplomatic and very even-keeled, which can be important," Gierlach said.

Downtown is "on a tightrope," she added. "It doesn't know which way it wants to go. It has its own personality that you can't find in any shopping malls."

White said she is most proud of securing a state grant two years ago to hire a part-time promotions coordinator for the association. The group received a second grant last year, but the money has run out, and members now are paying the coordinator with money collected through dues, she said.

Kathleen R. Campanella is working in the position now.

Membership also is at a high point with about 30 businesses, White said. Dues are $150 a year.

She also is happy with the success of the Flower Show and Sale that the association and the city began co-sponsoring last year as an annual spring event.

White said she has been "blessed" with a core of association leaders who share in her successes.

New association officers will be elected next month.

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