The Daily Times of Salisbury

PRINCESS ANNE, Md. (AP) — The tiny downtown area in Princess Anne that has seen some growth in retail shops and restaurants during the past few years will add a few more in the coming months, and town officials hope it is a trend that will continue.

A new electronics store is about to open, and the former Main Street Cafe will reopen in January under a new name and ownership.

There also are behind-the-scenes talks about reopening the Flying Crane Cafe, a popular eatery known for its artisan pizzas that closed this summer, said Ben Alder, director of the Princess Anne Main Street Partnership.

“My hope is they will keep the pizza component,” he said. “But it’s too soon to say.”

There also has been talk of a kayak and bike rental business opening in town, he said.

While there is good news about businesses opening in town, Alder said the Main Street board’s focus has turned to finding businesses to occupy six vacant commercial spaces in the two-block downtown area.

Among them is the downtown’s oldest building — the 18th century Washington Hotel. Earlier this year, the restaurant closed, and the hotel’s owners have been hoping to sell it for years.

“There are a lot of things swirling about,” Alder said of the hotel. “I don’t know how that will shake out.”

The PNC Bank building will also become vacant after the Somerset Avenue branch closes in January.

Alder said he has been told there is interest in the building. In the meantime, the Main Street group has come up with ideas to present to bank officials.

Business owners who decide to move to the downtown area could be eligible for financial help with renovating spaces to meet their needs.

The town recently applied for $375,000 in state Community Legacy grants for downtown improvements.

A portion of the money would be used for interior renovations of commercial buildings in Princess Anne’s downtown, where many of the buildings in the area are at least 100 years old and in need of renovations.

The $250,000 would help owners upgrade the interiors of their buildings to suit their tenants. In exchange for the grant, building owners would be required to give reduced rents, and tenants would have to agree to long-term leases, Alder said.

“It’s really a great, across-the-board win-win for everyone,” he said.

The town also is seeking $125,000 for facade renovations, specifically for the Price Cutters and Stop and Shop convenience stores that anchor each end of the downtown area.

An architect working for the national Main Street program has supplied both businesses with new facade designs to help them blend in better.

“They’re the kind of bookends to our town,” Alder said.

The town has already received $100,000 in two previous facade grants which have paid for awnings, painting and other upgrades to downtown structures during the past decade.

Both the facade and interior renovations grants would be overseen by the Main Street Partnership, which was formed in 2008 after the town received a Main Street Maryland designation.

The partnership includes the town, the Princess Anne Chamber of Commerce, University of Maryland Eastern Shore and the Somerset County Historical Trust.

Last year, the group teamed up with the Chamber of Commerce to pay for two billboards on Route 13 at the north and south ends of town.

“That drove a great deal of tourist traffic to us,” said Charlotte Sharf, owner of Petite Fleur Boutique & Cafe. “That was a big benefit.”

Visitors frequently commented on how charming the downtown was, and how much they liked the awnings and other building improvements made under previous facade grants to the downtown, she said.

While business recruitment and building improvements have been a focus of the Main Street Partnership, the group also has been active in planning events that attract people to the downtown area.

In September, the partnership hosted a Chalk-In event that featured art students from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore who created chalk drawings on downtown sidewalks.

The group also was instrumental in moving the Princess Anne Farmers Market out of Manokin River Park and into a parking lot in the middle of the downtown area.

A family-oriented New Year’s Eve party also is in the planning stages. It will include entertainment and a “muskrat drop” at midnight, which involves a stuffed and mounted muskrat lowered inside a ball.

The event is being modeled after the annual Possum Drop in Tallapoosa, Ga., where a stuffed possum named Spencer is lowered in a ball covered in Christmas lights from atop one of the city’s oldest buildings.

Alder thinks Princess Anne’s event will end up being a big hit.

“I think it will develop a life of its own,” he said.

Information from: The Daily Times of Salisbury, Md.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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