It's been a year of change in Westminster's downtown district, and the Main Street business community is looking enthusiastically for more of the same.
While nine of 45 Main Street retail stores between Longwell Avenue and John Street closed or moved in 1995, six merchants replaced them, and commercial real estate agents say quality retail space is at a premium.
City Councilman Stephen R. Chapin Sr., a businessman and founder of Greater Westminster Development Corp., likes what he sees.
"If we had to go 100 miles, we're probably at 50 miles," he said. "We've got a vision. Implementing that vision is not always easy, but I'm bullish."
So is James H. Dulany, a real estate appraiser and president of GWDC. "In judging the viability, stability and economic soundness of any community, the first thing to notice is the vacancy rate. We have a very low vacancy rate, almost none," he said.
In one of the most dramatic planned changes, Smith & Reifsnider Lumber Co., in business in Westminster since 1863, will close in March. Westminster Fire Company plans to move to the 3.5-acre property at John and Winters streets.
Mr. Chapin and other business leaders say continued momentum in downtown depends heavily on two key buildings: the vacant Farmers Supply Co. property at Liberty and West Green streets and the fire company building, with its distinctive 1896 clock tower that is Main Street's architectural centerpiece.
Last fall, the City Council halted a plan by Tevis Oil Co. President Stanley H. "Jack" Tevis III to build a convenience store and gas station on the Farmers Supply property. Mr. Tevis now is building a similar business on a vacant lot at West Main and Carroll streets.
The Rite Aid Corp. is considering the 1-acre Farmers Supply Co. site, Othal M. Lester Jr. of Jack Gaughen Realtor in Harrisburg, Pa., said last week.
One reason for recent improvements has been improved cooperation among downtown merchants who now are accepting the idea that, "If one does well, we all do well," said Jessica DeCesare, co-chairman of the Westminster Business Association.