‘Main Street’ Princess Anne is up and coming

PRINCESS ANNE — When it comes to economic development, public-private partnerships along with events proved to be a combination that drew interest in doing business in downtown Princess Anne.

It enticed at least one shop owner — and now her husband — who has thrown his apron into the mix to operate a small eatery opposite his wife’s clothing boutique.

Orlena Byrd Wilkes came downtown with her son for a Halloween event in 2018and eyed a vacant storefront perfect for her clothing and accessories shop. In just days she signed a lease, and within weeks on Dec. 1 she officially opened O’Grace & Glory Boutique.

In Princess Anne for eight years, she admitted she didn’t visit downtown very often because of her work schedule. During that Halloween evening she saw what had at one time been Barefoot Baby in Independence Hall.

“I love retail, and it’s right across the highway from my house,” and she said it worked out well. “I think it’s growing, with more people walking through and stopping in.”

Enter Ed Wilkes — not only into Orlena’s world as her life partner, but as a business ally opening this month Squeaky’s Café, across the hall in the same building. “It’s her nickname,” he said of the name. While he’s been coming down from New Jersey for the past year, “she’s from the area” and he moved here permanently in April.

Mr. Wilkes found Princess Anne a welcoming community, with people who support it. On being so close to his wife’s business, he said, “It’s like a tag team.” “I’m happy and excited to take over the space” which was last Rebecca’s Ice Cream but had been idle for one year when a year’s lease was paid by another tenant but nothing ever opened.

Squeaky’s serves breakfast and lunch ranging from doughnuts and other baked goods to soups, sandwiches and salads. Mr. Wilkes has food experience with casinos in Nevada and New Jersey, with his training through the Academy of Culinary Arts at Atlantic Cape Community College.

“We talk of the value of events and activities downtown, in addition to business development,” said Carrie Samis, the manager of Princess Anne’s Main Street Maryland program. “It all kind of works together and now as a result we have two businesses.

She said the café especially fulfills “the number one thing” that downtown surveys call for, and that is a place for breakfast and lunch. “We’re really excited about that.”

Ms. Samis was especially proud to show off downtown during Community Development Week, a time when members of the Community Development Network of Maryland (CDN) were in town. “We’re the only Main Street Maryland program to be highlighted,” she said.

Independence Hall underwent its major remodeling under the ownership of Charlotte and Jim Sharf, with Mrs. Sharf at one time the local Main Street program chair. The building is now owned by Davis Strategic Development LLC which includes Bret Davis of Davis Simpson Development — the largest developer currently at work in downtown Salisbury — and the firm behind the reconstruction of the former Marylander and Herald newspaper office into the Public Defender’s Office.

“There’s an atmosphere of vibrancy that’s happening in Princess Anne,” Mr. Davis said. He explained that further improvements are coming to Independence Hall, taking what is already a beautiful building, and there is interest in acquiring other properties for makeovers as well.

“We bring back buildings,” Mr. Davis said, calling the Washington Inn & Tavern where the CDN held its luncheon “the perfect model for what we want to do.” “We want to work our way down the street in Princess Anne,” noting that if anyone wants to start a small business downtown to call him, “and we can make sure they have space.”

The Washington Inn was a project undertaken with the help of the town and state government, with the closed Washington Hotel going through an extensive renovation for

a reopening as a boutique hotel, restaurant and bar in 2016.

Ian Fleming, representing the shareholders and partners on the project, said it started seven years ago. He called it “a leap of faith” to seek to remodel and operate the second oldest inn in Maryland. “We missed a few goals,” he said, but “It’s not the end of the world, it’s about timing.” He said it’s employing people, paying taxes and in the end “ you got to get in their and fight and we’re achieving a lot of our goals.”

Mr. Fleming said while the inn may be a cornerstone for downtown economic development it’s the growing retail and business offerings that he hopes will continue as they all support each other. He said he’s seen an uptick in historic property sales and shop owners willing to invest.

Ms. Samis, the Main Street manager, said over the last two years, “ we’ve had nine new businesses open in our tiny town and that’s amazing.” They range from a bicycle shop to a B& B to patient care service to a new insurance agent, along with the Wilkes’ restaurant and clothing shop.

“This is tremendous growth, and some of that can be attributed to the opening of the Washington Inn, which is exactly what we wanted to see with the re- establishment of this anchor in the community and the investment in this project spurred additional growth.” The business community includes many minorities, people of color and woman, “and that does truly reflect the diversity of this town,” Ms. Samis said. “That’s something to be proud of.”

The economic impact from the Washington Inn and the growth in downtown Princess Anne wasn’t lost on Odette Ramos, executive director of the CDN. She said at the luncheon which included town and UMES officials that this was the only Main Street community they would visit during Community Development Week, which “is actually two weeks because there are so many things in Maryland we want to highlight.”

Sen. Mary Beth Carozza also took note of this, as she uses this information when advocating for Main Street funding in the General Assembly. She can say Princess Anne as is an example of when public money is leveraged properly it can lead to a stronger private sector.

Princess Anne “is the best small town in the world,” said Town Commissioner President Garland Hayward.

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