It’s been three years, four months since we took possession of the space in Leonardtown. Leaving the home office which we had built because of the business was very difficult. We had worked so very hard to get the business to a point where I could work from home – and now here I was leaving and moving back into the mainstream.
Tom and I met with Jane and Carol, the landlords, a week before Christmas, 2005, and confirmed that we were going to move into 41665 Fenwick Street, Unit 13. Afterwards we went to Nook and Monks, the old movie theatre building, and had dinner in celebration. When leaving it was briskly cold and the church bells were playing “Oh Holy Night.” It was very surreal.
As January came, we turned the key for the first time and realized we had a lot of work ahead of us. We pulled carpet, patched and painted walls, laughed, and built divider walls where necessary. We worked together as a family. By March – after Tom had spent two weeks in Sante Fe for a class, and I two weeks in bed for a planned surgery we were close to opening. We moved the majority of the office and equipment and by the end of March I was there full time. Our grand opening and ribbon cutting (on April 6th) was a great success and created memories to last a life time.
Time went by quickly and before we knew it, the business grew very quickly. Our orders more than tripled in comparison to what they were when we were at home. It was an election season, so we were working 12-14 hour days 6-7 days a week. Paying the bills came easily but our bodies were working in overdrive. By the time we were finished with our first Christmas in Leonardtown, we knew that the week after had to be designated a recovery week – and we closed the store just for that reason. Our last custom gift had been delivered at 8:30 pm on Christmas eve. It was then that we could begin our own Christmas.
Our one year anniversary had come and gone quickly. The spring brought to us two awards. The Beacon of Light from the Chamber of Commerce and the Leading Edge Small Business of the Year from the College of Southern Maryland. The last of the two awards was received the end of June at an awards banquet in Waldorf. We were so busy with the store by now, that my acceptance speech was literally written on the way there – on a scrap piece of paper found in the car.
At this point our need for building expansion was overwhelming. We were busting at the seams – there was no room to work and tempers sometimes flared because of this. We had discussed with our landlords the possibility of taking over the center section of the building which would give us another 900 square feet. By the fall, we were again putting down carpet, painting walls and cutting a doorway between the two sections to make room for an expanded production area and future sign showroom. Before moving into this area, fresh and clean, my brother, George had his second artist reception which again proved successful for him and sales were good. By now though, the economy had started to turn and there was a distinct reflection of this by the amount of attendance in the show. With a new space to pay for – this was a little disheartening, but none the less, we pushed forward and I started to ignore the morning news.
I sit here now and I reflect on the so many things that have come and gone, the events that have happened while we have been in Leonardtown. These are not necessarily in the order of events – simply in the order of as I walk down the sidewalk and as my memory kicks in – I reflect on each building in passing.
After running since 1932, the fireman’s carnival, held on the grounds across from the fire house, did not open for the 2006 season.
From a business perspective, Nook and Monks was the first to go. Where our celebratory dinner was held, it closed and was vacant for a while. It is now a mexican restaurant; which is rumored to be having economic difficulties.
The long awaited Linda’s Cafe came to the old CVS location – it was there maybe a year – and went. It fell amidst rumors of dishonestly, back rent and underhandedness. A new restaurant opened before the new year (2009). Ye Old Town Cafe. Owned by the building owner that was caught up in so much of the scandal from Linda’s Cafe, towns people and business owners alike have vowed to not patronize the business.
Town Crafters lost their lease and moved to the Antique Center which made room for OGA’s, an Asian restaurant to move into their space.
S-kape Bed and Bath closed with little or no warning during the summer of 2006. I was upset about missing the Sale!! Quality Street Kitchen and Catering moved into their space in the fall.
The Carousel Ice Cream parlor moved to the Leonardtown Center and The Tea Room, which changed it’s name to Tea and Scones, only now to be The Wine Bar, moved from the Antique Center to Carousels old location. Carousels in the Leonardtown center has since closed.
The Drury building across from the pet store was completed and The Democratic Club moved into extra space there and operated for a little over a year.
The Good Earth left the square and moved around the corner to a much larger location (the old post office) and Cafe’ des Artiste expanded their restaurant with the addition of Le’ Salon dining area for private parties and customer overflow.
Mattingly’s IGA closed after who knows how many years. Wayne Davis purchased the property and gutted the entire structure. It was to be divided and made into a strip type shopping center and would be called Breton Market Place.
Salsas, a mexican restaurant moved into a section of Breton Market Place, as did the Arc of St. Mary’s, the Train Shop and The White Rabbit, a children’s book store.
Do Dah Deli returned to Leonardtown bigger and better after a two year hiatus. Their space in the Breton Market place is now 10 times bigger than their original deli which was located in the square – (old County Seat location – pre-Hilltop Graphics). With their return, sparked a lifelong friendship between the Davis family and the Battalia family.
P.S. It’s All Good, a specialty wine, cheese and chocolate shop opened in the house down from us, and rented space to Art in Wire above. I forget already what the name of the shop was that was previously there… it was a really neat place, and simply overnight – closed. A year later, P.S. It’s All Good held their going out of business sale which saddened everyone. It is a shame that the amount of people who showed up to buy discounted wine did not show up once a week and support the local business, maybe it would have ended differently, if not at all. At this writing, May 2009, the building is still empty. Art in Wire had already moved into the space vacated when the Democratic Club closed their main office after the election of President Obama – their job being done until the next election cycle.
The long time, no tell motel behind the pet store was torn down and a large, upscale Hotel – Executive Inn Suites was built and opened in the Fall of 2008.
Hillside Rides – an electric car shuttle service buzzed into all our lives reminding us to Think Green.
First Fridays began in Leonardtown – on the corner in front of the bank – On a Roll Hotdog stand made it’s debut and is a favorite of many.
Vintage Values moved out, leaving empty a 5000 square ft building, and moved to the old Haydens Auto on route 5. That space is still empty.
D&W Carpentry moved into the back spaces of The Hair Company.
Heron’s Way Gallery left the MD Antique Center and moved into the house beside The Hair Company. This was a big move for them by moving off the beaten path of Route 5. Mary Ida and Rose, who are my cousins were now closer.
The County Seat Restaurant changed hands only to close not long after. Olde Town Cupboard opened – and lasted less than four months. A huge disappointment when they closed due to difficulties with their landlord. Good food, good service…. (May 2009 – A yellow notice litters the door, still decorated from Christmas, with news of a lawsuit for non-payment of rent).
The Brewing Grounds coffee shop changed hands when Valerie, Larry and a partner purchased it from Rene and Giselle, family was now across the street and around the corner.
The long awaited renovation of the waterfront was completed after an extended amount of time. The construction of the surrounding area ceased after a disagreement with the builder and the tenants of the condominiums about the type of buildings to be built. The fencing surrounding it, causing it to only have eight parking places is still there. The town is now in the process of condemnation to take possession of the space the builder has not finished. The house next to the waterfront, now for sale, housed Seaside Scapes. A novelty shop. I never went in there and am not sure how long they were in business.
Ledo’s pizza opened on a pad site in the parking lot of Breton Market Place.
Kevin’s Corner cafe moved in on the back street of Leonardtown behind Bell Motor Company the summer of 2008.
After being in Leonardtown for 14 years, the economy and the addition of Arizona pizza, Pizza Hut and now Ledo’s Pizza, it was more than Four Star Pizza could take. Their buffet and dine in location closed (which was the old Hardees in my day) and they became a carry out only. The area which had catered to their dine in customers was renovated over a 2-3 month period and reopened at the end of the summer as Olde Town Pub. Within two months – the carry out section of Four Star Pizza closed and to date construction is still underway to enlarge Olde Town Pub into the entire building. The Pub business is good, overflowing even. No matter the economy, alcohol sells.
The old Sterling House – The Sterling house was completely gutted and renovations started in early 2007. Finally, in the fall of 2008, Corbel’s a high end, fine dining establishment opened providing Leonardtown with an additional meeting room and a porch to sit on and watch the evening roll by.
Summer of 2008 saw the United Propane office move out of the space beside the Leonardtown post office. It was vacant for a while, but by Beach Party on the Square, Chillin’ Time, a smoothie and teenage entertainment center opened.
And now, most recently, after 85 years of being in business, Bell Motor Company closed and was sold to Winegartner.
With the economy taking a spill in the past year or so, it is hard to say what the future of Old Town Leonardtown will be… rumors of other closings are on the horizon. As a consumer, it is great to have an abundance of restaurants to choose from. Over ten new establishments in the past three years. But once the meal is over what do you do? The ice cream parlor has closed long ago, so the option of enjoying a cone, walking and window shopping is gone. The only reliable retail space is the used bookstore. I hope he can survive the turmoil that continues to boil and bubble beneath the streets that continue to be pulled, prodded and patched with no regard to it’s previous state.
Although we created many positive memories, disappointment and disillusionment has run high while in Leonardtown, we have continued to push through it though. November 2008 cemented any hope for making a difference when a sign installation – so grossly out of the town sign regulations – took place. Where we stuck to the guidelines, and insisted our customers do the same, a sign three times the regulations was installed one block away from us. Sadly, we had not even had the opportunity to bid the job, and when asked why we hadn’t been given the opportunity, a half hearted “Oh I didn’t know you did that sort of thing” was the answer. So much for economic growth and development and supporting the local town businesses. The town people knew – the town office knew. They knew who to come to if they wanted something donated, but when it was a paying job they went outside of the town limits. Never did Hilltop turn them down for donations. Yet, repeatedly, the town office would refer new businesses and potential clients to outside vendors, not the little sign shop within town. It was the good ole’ boy network at it finest.
Some of the people of the town I will miss. Their character, their personality and the unexpected visits that often occured. Visits that most likely will not happen once we move to Hollywood.
Most notable is who I call “the one eyed man.” His name is Ron. I had often seen him walking the sidewalks on good days when the weather permitted. Then on a wild occasion he came in the store. I wasn’t sure what to expect – quite frankly he had scared me from afar, and now here he was right in front of me. He is a gem. He brought to me insight, through his ramblings that no one else could have done. That day, he stirred such an emotion, it’s not describable. He was like a prophet. And the next time I saw him, and he came in to visit – His stories were the same – maybe a little different in the order in which he told them – but they were the same. And when he appeared, it was on days when I felt my worst, and he brought such sunshine. He always says goodbye with a smile and the words of “do me just this one favor, always smile.” You see, he was in an auto accident that took everything away from him in a split second. EVERYTHING. Everything that is except for the memory of where he was before it happened and what he doesn’t have now. He re-lives it everyday, and re-tells the story every time you see him. He is trapped – but he wants those that he tells to learn his lesson – that he can no longer do anything about. To Live and to Smile and to savor the moment.
This story wouldn’t be complete without talking about Brian. Brian Gallagher. When we moved to ‘town, early on I was interviewing someone when out of the blue she pointed out the window. She pointed at the tall lanky subject walking slowly down the street with a gait you could tell was hard to keep up with even with the slowness. “Him” she said, “he is a wonderful artist, but he is an awful alcoholic.” She was talking about our local barista who made my coffee every morning. I was taken back that this person who was in the middle of an interview would make such a statement. She didn’t get the job – we don’t talk about people like that. But what she did do was spark an interest in me as to just what type of an artist he was – especially with such a tainted past and a present that seemed to be going ok for him. Whenever in the coffee shop, it was difficult to get him to move past the usual pleasantries of passing my coffee across the counter with a hand that concealed a missing fingertip. Eventually, in the spring of 2007, after two years of discussing art, schooling, tips and techniques, Brian, as he passed me my morning coffee said “Sooo… I hear you have an opening.” My cousin Valerie had just taken over ownership of the coffee shop and employees were bailing right and left – and I was caught between a rock and a hard spot. After much discussion, and grownup conversation between everyone we worked out what would be best for Brian and the two businesses. In late summer, Brian came to work for Hilltop. It appeared as though his previous life issues were no longer present and this would be a great opportunity for him. Days turned into weeks and weeks into months. He had been working for about 3 months when the pressures of life and learning a new job combined caused him to come in and report he would no longer be working with us. I was sad to say the very least – two years of hoping that someone could grow and expand with the business were gone. Brian left, and after a month or so, was seen working back in the coffee shop again. I knew he didn’t want to be there, but I knew that the pressures of our deadlines were more than he could bare, so it went back to the usual chat of “How is school”, “How are your projects going”, “How much longer do you have this semester.” There were no bad feelings. Even the day he turned in his resignation at Hilltop, I told him – “Brian, I have no bad things to say about you, and he rebutted the same.” We both agreed that it just hadn’t worked out. As the seasons changed and time moved on in January I noticed that Brian was at the coffee shop less and less. I asked Pammie where he was, and the general reply was that he was sick.
It was after a First Friday meeting in February that Valerie followed me out the door and into the street to tell me she had to talk to me. Dodging the early morning traffic, we moved to the sidewalk and I stood in shock and disbelief as she told me Brian had been found the day before, a victim of suicide. His apartment above the pet store, where he had moved after the breakup with his “girlfriend of awesomeness”, and I smile when I say that, had become his last known address. His life had gone into a spiral at some point in time, and this was it – he’d had enough and had checked out. Alcoholism had taken him. The evilness had won. What the girl in the interview three years before had said was true – and even though his talent was there – it was overcome by an illness, an illness that won. The sadness was overwhelming and to know that we had tried was a good feeling – but that it didn’t work was an even greater disappointment. And there was nothing that could be done about it. I dealt with my own grief and guilt of “could I have done something differently?”, and “what if?”, and “if only…” As the days went by, occasionally I would look across the street to the silhouettes that made their deposits in the ATM in the drive thru. They all looked the same. They looked like the barista dude, with his apron, that everyday at two-ish would make a deposit before leaving his post for the day. That same slow strolling gait afterwards would walk back to the corner coffee shop. But it really didn’t happen – because he was gone. The barista dude, Brian, was gone. At his service over 1,500 people were in attendance. How could someone so loved have been so lost? We will never know.
I sit and I reflect back on the amount of people who have been interviewed and the employees that have been hired only to find out that they were not the perfect fit for Hilltop. They each one were unique and contributed in their own way as they were in search of what they wanted to do. Hilltop itself is so unique – that is why we are who we are and why not everyone has continued with us.
April 30th, 2009 brought the very last day of Hilltop Graphics in Leonardtown to a close.
So much has happened in such a short little period of time. People, places, personalities – they have come and they have gone. Some are embedded in the spaces forever. As the roads of the town continue to be uprooted and repaved, only to be uprooted and repaved again – one thing is consistent. The church bells. They ring regularly – even if they are broadcast from speakers within the bell tower, they ring and they sing of joy and forgiveness. The little town of Leonardtown – joy and forgiveness, that is what I will hold in my heart. No matter the strife and disappointment that has weighed heavy in it’s un-acceptance of a little business called Hilltop, I leave with no regrets. I feel our time there was well spent and our contributions great. Our presence on a little street called Fenwick will continue into the history books of the town as “there once was a little sign and gift shop here.” Titles and names gone, it won’t be thought of until the dust settles – and progress has moved past the building of 41665. As the beeping noise of the bulldozer pulls away, the camera fades to a piece of paper that has just settled from the sky and lay upon a pile of rubble – uprooted from it’s space in the ceiling where it had been tucked neatly so many years before. A card. A business card. Hilltop Graphics, 41665 Fenwick Street, Leonardtown, MD. That little sign and gift shop that used to be there…