Main St. prepares for end of Mather's Department store to close Saturday amid uncertainty

November 20, 1996|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Downtown Westminster is entering the Christmas season without an anchor to draw shoppers away from the malls.

T. W. Mather & Sons, the department store that has presided over Main Street for 106 years, closes for good Saturday, leaving merchants wondering what an empty building will do to their holiday sales.

"I am sorry to see anyone who has been here that long go," said Kim Prehn, owner of Unique Jewelry. "There are so few stores like Mather's in downtowns anymore. So few where the customers are your friends."

The two-story building at 31 E. Main St. will not be empty for long. Coffey Music, two doors away, has purchased the building.

Bob Coffey, owner of the 12-year-old business, hopes that tripling his space to about 14,000 square feet will double his clientele. He expects to settle on the building in January and begin renovations immediately, a project that could take about four months, he said.

The first floor will remain retail space filled with musical instruments and accessories. The second level will become studios, classrooms and, possibly, a recital hall and recording area.

"I am commited to Main Street; it makes sense for us," said Coffey. "We will be close to the library and surrounded by a core of downtown businesses."

The move will offer Coffey Music, which now faces a parking lot, more visibility in a more prominent location. About 450 students a week study in nine studios now. In the new location, Coffey plans 18 studios.

"I know Mather's was a big draw, but it has been declining over the years," Coffey said. "Maybe we can even things up."

Many of his students are children, whose parents often window shop or wander into restaurants while waiting for lessons to end.

"I am still grieving over losing Mather's, but I am definitely looking forward to what will be going in there," said Judy Nave, owner of the Forget Me Not Shop. "Maybe we will open evening hours to complement their hours."

The Greater Westminster Development Corp., an organization of local business owners, presented its first landmark award to Mather in April and is working closely with Coffey on the expansion.

"Mather's is at the heart of our retail community, in a class by itself" said Doug Mathias, executive director of the corporation. "But, Bob is doing the same thing Mather's did 100 years ago, working to expand and continue on Main Street."

The many restaurants and small businesses that have benefited from customer spillover and from the patronage of 23 Mather employees expect to feel at least a slight pinch.

"It will have a definite impact on us," said Gloria Wright, co-owner of Kountry Kafe and Katering. "Diners always are telling us that the sales ladies at Mather's have recommended our restaurant."

Mather employees came to the Locust Street cafe every morning for coffee, and many returned for lunch. They also chose the restaurant for their farewell dinner.

The lunch hour usually has meant more customers for Nave, too. People often stopped in for a card or gift. She expects much of the same traffic but worries that Mather's longtime customers might stop coming to town.

It will be a year before the impact of the closing is known, she said. She suggests improvements in street lighting and sidewalks to spur business.

At Bobby's Hobby Lobby, which sells craft and modeling supplies, the staff does not expect the loss of the department store to affect business.

"We are established with a name of our own," said sales clerk Virginia Gesell. "We never had much spillover from Mather's."

Two months ago, Jeannie Gambrill moved her TelePage Inc., a store that sells pagers and crafts, from Hampstead to Main Street and Longwell Avenue.

Gambrill expected more walk-in traffic. A few weeks after she opened, she heard the department store was closing. Her first thought, she said, was, "This isn't good."

"Coffey's won't pull the same kind of business as Mather's," she said. "It is bad timing and could really hurt Main Street."

If Main Street remains filled with businesses, possibly shops selling unusual crafts and antiques, it can compete with shopping malls, she said.

"The more shops are here, the more we will all sell," Gambrill said. "People won't come out for just one shop, but if there are several with similar products, people will make a day of it."

A positive attitude will keep customers coming, said M. Belle Holt, manager of the Rescue Mission Store, which sells donated items at minimal prices.

"We all have to work together to keep the aroma of retail alive on Main Street," she said.

Pub Date: 11/20/96

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