Re-inventing Westminster

November 25, 1993

A group of business and civic leaders is taking the first step toward reversing the decline of downtown Westminster. These 30 men and women are charter members of an organization called the Greater Westminster Development Corp. Their goal is to support existing businesses and attract new ones to the Carroll County seat -- no easy task.

In recent years, it has become obvious that downtown Westminster is no longer the county's retailing core. People don't go to "town" to shop anymore; they go to the malls. The habit has become so ingrained, and the malls' parking and accessibility advantages so strong, it would be folly for downtown Westminster to try to compete on the same footing with the Route 140 shopping centers.

Rather, specialized retailing may have a future downtown, once Westminster finds the right mix of merchandisers. Consignment shops have moved into the vacant storefronts, although these stores aren't the ticket for revitalizing Main Street.

Creating a large market building for farmers to sell their wares, as in Lancaster, Pa., is one idea for giving the downtown a stronger draw. It is also clear that the new business group will have to think beyond retailing. It will have to encourage other activities that attract people, such as restaurants and theaters. Right now, the county's main library is probably having the most success at bringing large numbers of people downtown. If the GWDC is ambitious, it might look long-term to build support for a large meeting hall that could also serve as a theater or concert venue.

Private enterprise by itself will not revive Main Street, however. City and possibly county financial assistance will be needed, such as seed capital to attract investment to certain projects. Some of these decisions will undoubtedly be politically unpopular, especially in a county with little tradition of government acting as a catalyst for development.

The new coalition should take solace in the fact that other small towns with the population and architectural fabric of Westminster have succeeded in reviving their downtowns -- in counties with less income, education and population growth than Carroll has. We commend the coalition members for realizing that downtown Westminster is worth saving, and that it won't be revitalized without some creative efforts.

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