As the Mayor and Commissioners and the Elkton Alliance work to revitalize the county seat Someone Noticed will write a series of pieces exploring the changes that have affected the central business district. Over time social, economic and political dynamics, including the opening of Route 40, a 24-hour waiting period for marriage, the arrival of malls, and the Internet have all been forces creating change on Main Street. We’ll begin our series shortly, but as we start to work we recalled an excellent piece of reporting done by the Rising Sun Herald. Soon after the county administrative offices moved to the state line early in 2008, the Contributing Editor for that weekly, Lisa Tome, examined the affect that move had on the business district. Though it’s about 8 months old, we recalled how helpful that reporting was when we first saw it, just the type journalism hometown newspapers should be doing. Thus we checked with the publisher, Jim Wolfe, and he has given us permission to republish the frontpage story. It captures the affect that significant loss of workers and visitors had on the town and is the only reporting we’ve seen on that subject.
Rising Sun Herald
Downtown Elkton Changes After Courthouse Moves Out
by Lisa Tome Contributing editor
Mario Testa used to make large kettles of soup each morning in an effort to feed some of the 200 plus employees at the Circuit Courthouse. Testa, owner of Brothers Pizza on Elkton’s Main Street is making a lot less soup and a lot less dough these days. The move by county employees out of the circuit court building on Elkton’s Main Street to their new home on Chesapeake Boulevard off Route 40 has Testa and other downtown Elkton business owners strapped for customers. “It’s killed my lunch business. Even the night business because people are not getting pizzas (to take home) anymore,” said Testa.
“The holidays and Christmas is a slow time but we’ve lost a lot of faces. It used to be that people came in. We knew their faces and knew what they wanted. One guy (a county employee) Greg, ordered a cheeseburger sub a couple times a week,” said Testa. Testa said he is trying to bring business in. He’s added specials and cut prices when possible. He said that the county move, the economy, and the post-holiday spending cuts have hurt the business.
“They didn’t think of us when they made that move. I don’t know who is to blame or why. I’m losing $200-$300 in lunch business. I used to make 20-30 pizzas a day now I only make a little,” said Testa. “Before, we made big soup (pots) now we make little soup. Hopefully it’s just the time of year. Hopefully, things will get better.”
Brothers Pizza isn’t the only food business that has been impacted by the relocation of the county offices. Wes Walker runs the Main Street Cafe across from the courthouse. “We’ve been hit hard here. I can tell the volume of sales is down. I am hoping that it will turn around,” said Walker. He said he hopes that the Elkton Chamber/Alliance work to promote businesses. Walker said that he is grateful to the remaining employees, court workers and jurors that still turn out to eat. “The food is great and people still come,” said Walker.
Elkton Main Street Manager Mary Jo Jablonski said she hasn’t noticed that the downtown is less busy yet. had more of an impact than has been noted by the move, so far. “They left the time of year that it’s quiet anyway. I’m not really seeing much difference. Once the weather breaks it will be different,” she said. She also said that the cut back from an hour lunch break to a half hour in 2000 had more of an impact than has been noted by the move, so far. She said despite the fact that so many people are no longer working downtown, parking is still hard to find. “We still need more parking. I guess people today don’t want to walk (far),” she said.
Jerry Holmes cleans Elkton’s streets five days per week. He still has plenty to do, but he has noticed something.” There is not the trash that there used to be, for sure,” said Holmes. “There’s nobody here hardly. There’s less soda cans and cigarette butts.” Courthouse Security Guard Ray Stevens, Sr. is also busy. He said he answers 15-20 questions per day from people who are looking for the offices that have relocated. He also misses the employees that have moved. “We have our sports talk group every morning. There is only two of us left. After Planning and Zoning goes there won’t be any,” he said.
A county official said he’s not surprised that the businesses have been impacted. “To my knowledge the Town of Elkton never did anything to keep us. I am sure this impacted the businesses. But with a half hour lunch (break) they (employees) can’t go into town,” said Bill Manlove, President of the Board of Cecil County Commissioners.