Student-run cafe at Wilde Lake center to reopen


A student-run cafe will reopen in the Wilde Lake Village Center in the next few weeks under an arrangement intended to reduce rowdiness and enhance the program's educational benefits, Howard County teachers involved with the project said yesterday.

The Wilde Times Cafe lost its free lease at the center in the spring, just as Howard County civic boosters were preparing to showcase the program as part of their successful bid for the All-America City Award.

Columbia Management Inc. (CMI), a Rouse Co. affiliate, had donated space and utilities for the cafe since late 1999. But the company later became concerned that cafe crowds were making other shoppers and tenants uncomfortable. Police were called to quell a disturbance at the cafe in March. CMI said it would not renew the lease, which expired at the end of August.

But the company agreed to give the cafe another chance after hammering out some new ground rules with people involved with the project, said two Wilde Lake High School teachers who serve as advisers for the cafe.

CMI agreed to renew the lease for another year and will consider extending the lease even longer if the arrangement works out, said the teachers, Rena Bezilla and Cindy Drummond.

Company officials could not be reached for comment.

"They had some concerns and we had a meeting, and we were able to sit down and iron out our concerns, and they gave us a list of things that they would like," Bezilla said. "There are stipulations, all of which are very reasonable."

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.

The cafe is expected to reopen at the end of this month or in early November. It will be open for a few hours in the afternoon on school days and from 7 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Fridays, when local bands perform.

Last year, the Friday closing time was 10 p.m. That meant teens poured out of the cafe just as the center's liquor store was closing for the night, Bezilla said.

Now bands will still stop playing at 10 p.m., but the cafe won't close until 10:30 p.m. so teens should trickle out rather than leave all at once, she said.

In another change, a security guard from Howard County schools will be posted at the cafe Friday nights, Drummond said.

The terms of the new agreement also are intended strengthen the program academically. Students will be given more instruction and mentoring so they better understand how to run a business.

"The students were clearly working together and making priorities and all of those things, but they still weren't learning how to keep good [financial] books and things like that," Bezilla said.

The Howard County Economic Development Authority has agreed to help through its Center for Business and Technology Development.

The center, which was created to nurture start-ups and small businesses, will lend staffers and resources to train the student cafe workers in the basics of accounting, drawing up business plans, setting up a business bank account and establishing a management structure, said Mike Haines, the authority's senior vice president for small-business development.

"The purpose wasn't just to please CMI," Drummond said. "The purpose was to strengthen and ensure the future success of the cafe."

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