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Student-run cafe seeking a new home


A student-run cafe that could help Columbia win a national award is looking for a new home because the place drew more teens than were welcome at Wilde Lake Village Center.

Students and civic leaders held a closed-door meeting at the cafe yesterday to discuss finding a new location for the Wilde Times Cafe.

Run by students from Wilde Lake and River Hill high schools, the cafe opened in the village center in late 1999. Columbia Management Inc., a Rouse Co. affiliate that donated space and utilities at the center, has declined to renew its lease, which is up at the end of August.

In interviews after the meeting, some participants said Wayne Christmann, CMI vice president and general manager, told them the large numbers of teens the cafe drew to the center made shoppers and tenants uncomfortable. Christmann could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Kathleen Davis, a Wilde Lake High School senior and general manager of the cafe, said participants asked Christmann if the decision was "more financial or more because of the teens. He said it was more because of the teens."

Police were called to the cafe in March after the crowd attending a "club night" with a disc jockey grew too large and rowdy, Davis said. She said some fighting occurred outside the cafe on the village center green.

That incident aside, civic leaders said they view the cafe as a valuable program that teaches student workers how to run a business and gives kids a place to hang out.

The cafe is one of three community projects that Columbia leaders highlighted in their application for the National Civic League's All-American City Award. Columbia is one of 30 semifinalists for the community recognition award. The cafe will be featured as part of a presentation on Columbia next month in Atlanta, when the town competes with other semifinalists to be named one of the nation's top 10 cities.

Under the supervision of teachers and adult volunteers, students earn class credit by running all aspects of the cafe, which serves soda, juice, chips and other snacks. One item missing from the cafe menu is coffee; the students can serve only prepackaged foods and drinks because the cafe does not have a kitchen that meets health regulations, Davis said.

The cafe is open for a few hours every afternoon after school and on Friday nights, when local bands perform until 10. At least one adult is on the premises whenever the cafe is open.

Columbia Foundation Director Barbara Lawson, who organized yesterday's meeting along with Davis, said the cafe is worth saving.

The meeting drew representatives from Howard County's police and Chamber of Commerce, the Columbia Association, Leadership Howard County and the Wilde Lake Village Association. Nothing was decided, except that the group needs to meet again to discuss the matter further, participants said.

"Right now, we're just trying to brainstorm," Davis said.

By running the cafe, students have learned all aspects of running a business - from ordering supplies to booking bands, Lawson noted.

"You can't help but be impressed," she said. "They've learned a ton."

The next lesson: losing the lease.

Davis plans to help find a new location, although her last day of school was Friday. She has completed all of her coursework for graduation - including one credit for managing the cafe.

"You work so hard for something, so we really, all the seniors, we really want to see it continue," she said.

An article in Wednesday's Howard County edition of The Sun reported incorrectly that Columbia is a semifinalist for the National Civic League's All-American City Award. In fact, Howard County as a whole, not just the town of Columbia, is a semifinalist. The Sun regrets the error.
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