Coffeehouse where the Wilde Times are

Student-run cafe filled to capacity for its reopening

February 04, 2002|By Megan Watzin | Megan Watzin,SUN STAFF

Throngs of teen-agers looking to have a good time Friday night crowded outside the Wilde Times Cafe in Wilde Lake Village Center, shivering in the cold, and unable to gain admission to the sold-out reopening of the teen-operated coffeehouse.

Wilde Lake High School students have been working with their adult advisers since the cafe lost its lease in the spring, trying to put the pieces together to reopen.

The long wait produced pent up demand.

The first night's show, which included performances by five local teen-age bands, quickly sold out. A half-hour after the 7 p.m. opening, the building had reached its capacity of 75 people.

"I never expected this many people to actually come," said Wilde Lake junior Mary Reeves. Reeves is one of seven students running the business.

Olen Whisman, a Columbia Management security officer on duty to help manage the crowd, said he didn't expect so many teen-agers to show up. But he noted that the students seemed "pretty orderly."

He also said that having the cafe as a drug-free, school-sponsored environment seemed to be a good idea.

Whisman's presence is one of a number of changes made by the cafe's management to set the stage for the reopening. Community concern about boisterous crowds of teen-agers last year was one reason the cafe was closed. A second issue - paying for space and utilities - was solved with a new $4 cover charge.

Before reopening, the seven students on the cafe's management committee - six from Wilde Lake, one from Howard High School - had to create an extensive business plan. The plan included calculating expenses, planning publicity, arranging for security and researching legal aspects of running a business in Columbia, Reeves said.

Meeting

After a number of planning meetings with adult advisers and counsel from Howard County business development experts, the students sold their business plan to Howard County school officials and Columbia Management Inc., the Rouse Co. affiliate that manages Wilde Lake Village Center.

Staff adviser Cindy Drummond, a Wilde Lake High School teacher, described the students' experience as "learning everything you would learn getting a business degree compacted into one experience."

They realized the payoff Friday night as teen-agers packed the center.

As the music started, teen-agers packed the one-room, glass-enclosed cafe, some sitting at small diner-like tables, but most surrounding the small stage in the corner. "We made the money we were hoping to make," said Reeves, who credited the excellent turnout to the aggressive efforts of the cafe's marketing director, Wilde Lake junior Alysa Procida.

Getting the word out

Procida wrote news releases, contacted the media, published fliers and posted the schedule on www.pheer.com, a Web site listing local band performances in Maryland and Virginia.

The cafe managers also relied on word of mouth to advertise in Howard County high schools.

"I think it went very, very well. There was a great turnout, the bands handled themselves well, and we didn't have any problems with security," said Procida.

Eryn Foxx, a senior at Wilde Lake and the cafe's volunteer coordinator, said managers are looking for more adults and students to "watch the kids and make sure no rowdy business goes down." Wilde Times "could always use adult volunteers," she added.

Wilde Times will be open from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 7 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Fridays.

"It's great that they have a place where kids can hang out in a safe area," said Christella Potts, 19, a River Hill High School graduate.

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