Waynesboro, like many small towns, lost downtown businesses when the economy soured, but it is starting to experience an influx of new restaurants and gift shops.
At the helm of economic development is Patrick E. Fleagle, a former politician now working for downtown revitalization organization Mainstreet Waynesboro Inc.
When walking through downtown, the Waynesboro native often refers to buildings by their long-gone tenants, but he also sees what could be on the horizon. He pins all hopes for economic vitality on smart proprietors.
As he crosses Center Square, Fleagle pauses at a new business selling stained-glass gifts.
“This type of store and eateries are going to be the life of downtown,” he said.
Bill Fontana, executive director of the Pennsylvania Downtown Center, said there are 900 to 1,000 “downtowns” in Pennsylvania. Waynesboro is one of 172 downtowns that has received financial assistance through a Main Street program.
The last few years have presented various challenges for downtowns, Fontana said.
“For lots of people, obviously the economy is an issue, ... (but) I’m impressed with how many small downtowns, including Waynesboro, have weathered this,” he said.
In Waynesboro, the Gracie’s Place sandwich shop on Center Square closed only a few weeks after opening.
Fleagle believes a Japanese restaurant will take its place.
The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development says turnover of businesses indicates a healthy downtown, so a valid test is evaluating whether new businesses are moving into the spaces being vacated, according to Fleagle.
Still, Fleagle said he is thankful for good landlords and long-standing businesses like the Kulla, Barkdoll, Ullman & Painter law firm.
“You need that stability,” he said.
Downtown property owner Craig Mahrle has started renovating the old Wolff Building on East Main Street.
The building, which formerly housed Waynesboro Community and Human Services, had seriously deteriorated, Fleagle said.
Fleagle wants small business owners to share their best practices and techniques with each other. For instance, he hopes Zoe Tsoukatos from Zoe’s Chocolate Co. can work with the Shippensburg (Pa.) University Small Business Development Center to explain how she does online marketing and sales.
Fleagle praises Tsoukatos for her work and says he wants to find more people like her.
“I don’t want businesses,” he said. “I’m looking for entrepreneurial people.”
Stewart McCleaf opened Celebrity Deli about a month ago at 37 E. Main St. to fill a void he saw for deli sandwiches. He said he is happy with the customer response.
“We’re definitely going to grow out of this space,” he said.