Westminster firms are getting a facelift

Facade program is aimed at sprucing up downtown

November 23, 2003|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

A year ago, the exterior of the Dutterer Flower Shop resembled a rectangular block with an upside down ice cream cone sticking out of its top.

Today, the store looks like a life-size Victorian dollhouse - complete with chocolate-brown trim and two turrets, one with stained-glass windows and the other with a display of child-sized figurines singing Christmas carols.

It has been more than a year since Westminster's Facade Improvement Program began doling out money to spruce up the city's commercial districts. Five businesses have taken the city up on its offer of a dollar-for-dollar match for repairing or adding fixtures such as signs, awnings, lighting, steps, windows and painted surfaces.

The most sweeping of the facade-improvement projects can be seen on the Pennsylvania Avenue storefront where the Dutterer Flower Shop has been located since 1937.

The front of the building was removed, and a turret was added. The $30,000 project was completed this week.

"People think we're crazy for putting money into the building, but we've been here forever," said Lori Welsh-Graham, a third-generation keeper of the family business. "We don't want to leave Pennsylvania Avenue if I can help it."

Westminster's downtown is the "image of the city," said Stanley T. Ruchlewicz, administrator of the city's economic development office. "The downtown is the symbol of the community's economic health, pride and history. And really, it's those things that are factors in other sorts of business recruitment.

"A lot of times, folks are worried about providing enough products that they don't have enough money to take care of the outside," he added. "We thought this was a good way to encourage them, and it did."

In July of last year, the city received a $100,000 state grant for matching contributions to qualifying businesses' storefront renovation projects. Grants of up to $20,000 are available to businesses on or within a block of stretches of the city's two main thoroughfares, Main Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.

Westminster Town Center, the organization which administers the facade improvement grants, is reviewing four other applications. A dozen more applicants have received forms, and the city will provide the grants until the money runs out, said Ruchlewicz, who is also executive director of Westminster Town Center.

Although the program makes dollar-for-dollar matches, Ruchlewicz said businesses that received the grants have invested more money into the projects. An analysis found that the five businesses have spent an average of $2.60 for every $1 in state money, he said.

So far, more than $60,000 in grants have been distributed. Grant money has gone to refurbishing the flower shop, the two buildings on Main Street that house The Lady's Exchange and David's Jewelers, the Rexall Pharmacy on Main Street and the Hickory Stick gift shop on Liberty Street.

For the owner of the Hickory Stick, the grant offered an incentive to liven up the signs in front of the store - and update its image.

"I knew what I had in mind would be costly. I needed two signs," owner Sandy Scott said. "If I cut the figure in half and get two signs for the price of one, that was very appealing to me to have the cost split."

The old, beige-colored sign no longer reflected the store's character and products, Scott said. It read, "The Hickory Stick, Country Gifts and Home Accents," but the store also carries jewelry and other knick-knacks, Scott said.

"I didn't want to limit myself in that wording," she added. "I wanted to get away from the cutesy, country [image]. I wanted to reflect that we are more than a country store."

Now, the signs are splashier, with green, gold and orange accents and says "Hickory Stick, Gifts for the Home and You."

"I've had people who said, `Those are really different and neat.' You notice it much more than before," Scott said. "Hopefully, it draws attention."

At the Dutterer Flower Shop, Graham received a $15,000 grant. The business was established in 1919 by Stanley N. Dutterer, Graham's grandfather. In 1937 it moved from its original location at 110 Pennsylvania Ave. to its current home, a 1911 building less than a block away.

A portion of the facade that blocked the bottom of one turret was removed. A five-glass-panel turret was added on the left side to match the existing right one.

"When they first started tearing off the front of the store, the front looked like a toothpick shredded," Graham said.

A small porch with columns, steps and glass double doors were added, along with a handicapped-accessible ramp.

Last week, construction crews were putting the finishing touches on the building. They installed railings on the porch steps, and retouched the beige and brown paint on the house.

Then cardboard signs were removed from the glass-panel turret, revealing a large Christmas tree and other decorations visible from the sidewalk.

The house carries memories of three generations of the Dutterer family. Graham helped out in the family business as a cashier when she was in high school and has continued running the shop as an adult.

Eileen Dutterer-Gist, Graham's mother and the daughter of Stanley Dutterer, grew up in the house, which initially was used as a store and her home.

"I think my parents are smiling up in heaven," Dutterer-Gist said. "The reason I say this is I was brought here as a baby. The building is near and dear to my family."

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